Another meeting was held last night after we went to press to gain public input on the future of the Route 50 Bridge. However, prior to the meeting, a booklet was mailed to Ocean City property owners outlining the current plans on the table.
Here’s a look at the options being considered and our thoughts:
– Alternative 1-No Build: Only minor short-term improvements would be made as part of routine maintenance and safety operations. This is basically the status quo and we do not think this is getting the job done because the bridge has proven to be deficient in some ways. Those who have been stuck in traffic in recent years while the draw span was stuck in the up position understand this all too well.
– Alternative 2-Rehabilitation: This option, which does not mean any private property would have to be acquired, includes the rehabilitation of the existing structure, a separate fishing pier, wider sidewalks for pedestrians and bicyclists on the existing bridge and aesthetic improvements. The bad news with this option is the draw span stays. The good news is it extends the bridge’s life by 40 years. We like this concept and feel it’s a realistic approach to improving the bridge and making it safer for motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists and the fishermen.
– Alternative 4 Modified-Fixed-Span Bridge: This plan calls for a new parallel bridge beginning slightly west of the existing span and connecting to Philadelphia and Baltimore avenues in Ocean City via a series of ramps. The proposal calls for a “high-level fixed span with four lanes to carry inbound and outbound traffic. The existing bridge would be retained and possibly used for pedestrians, bicyclists and fishermen.” Traffic patterns would be tweaked in Ocean City and some parking would be lost. This plan would require the acquisition of 11 homes and 14 businesses. This is an unrealistic option, due to immense cost and the required private property “takings”, although it may be the answer to some of the congestion problems experienced in Ocean City a couple months of the year.
– Alternative 5-South Parallel Bridge: This proposal calls for a new parallel bridge south of the existing span that would reconnect with Division Street. The bridge would have a higher draw span and reduce the number of openings. The existing bridge would remain for pedestrians, bicyclists and fishermen. This alternative would call for displacing six homes and four businesses. We do not see how this option helps because the existing bridge will remain and the draw span will remain an issue.
– Alternative 5-North Parallel Bridge: It includes a new parallel bridge north of Route 50 and otherwise mirrors the south parallel bridge option. However, it would displace one home and seven businesses.
The only option here is to rehabilitate the structure. The critical advantage to building a new span would be removing the draw span and therefore improving the flow of land and water traffic, but we do not think there’s justification to spend in excess of $50 million in state funds to fix something that’s truly only an issue about six weekends of the year.
For the most part, there’s no problems with the bridge. There are routine maintenance projects that need to take place each year, and there are some inconveniences in the peak season, but we view those as unavoidable, no matter what kind of bridge is built. The fact is there’s a lot of people coming to Ocean City on Fridays and Saturdays in July and August and traffic is going to be an issue. Nearly every vacation destination in the world has trouble handling traffic loads during busy times. Traffic and congestion is just life at the beach to a degree.
A huge and expensive project to build a new bridge is simply not necessary. Of the options currently being considered by the state, we favor Alternative 2-Rehabilitation. It’s the most realistic and a project that addresses some safety concerns involving fishermen, pedestrians and bicyclists while not spending millions of unnecessary dollars to build a new bridge. It may also be the only way to get significant work done on the bridge in a timely fashion.