A lot was revealed at last week’s slots meeting at Ocean Downs and one thing was made certain – nobody knows what to do about Route 589 and it will be sometime before anything is decided.
What we did learn from track owner William Rickman last week was his short- and long-range plans to overhaul the facility and how he plans to incorporate about 800 video lottery terminals into his operation.
The immediate plan is to temporarily put 200 gaming machines in the existing indoor clubhouse. That could come as early as year’s end. Later, the plan is to tear down the existing grandstand and build a slots parlor. According to Rickman’s timeline, an additional 400 slot machines will be located in the renovated grandstand as early as May 2010, with 100 added by December 2011 and 100 more put in by April 2011. Eventually, the original 200 slot machines in the clubhouse will be moved to the grandstand area, bringing the total to 800. All in all, about $45 million will be spent on improving the infrastructure at the aging facility.
All of this eventually led to the inevitable questions about how it would impact Route 589 and its future. There are no answers to those questions at this time, all officials acknowledge, pointing largely to the paucity of funding for large transportation projects at this time.
After last week’s meeting, the State Highway Administration plans to meet with Rickman to discuss possibilities. “Our position is to meet with Mr. Rickman and take a look at his own traffic analysis,” District Engineer Donnie Drewer said. “Whatever traffic problems come out of this, he would have to mitigate. I can guarantee you if slots are approved here, we’ll be able to handle the traffic because Mr. Rickman will do what he is required to do. … The first thing I envision is adding another left turn lane on eastbound Route 50 onto Route 589. Of course, if you add a second turn lane on Route 50, you’re going to have to add a lane on Route 589 to accept that traffic or you haven’t accomplished anything.”
For his part, Rickman wants to remind the community this gradual phase-in of slots is not going to pose the traffic problems many fear. “You have to remember 800 slot machines is not a big facility,” he said. “There will be less traffic out there then during live racing really because it will be spread out all day long. There’s less traffic at this facility today then there was 10 years ago.”
Rickman’s comments may be on the mark, but at the same time he realizes he will have to sacrifice some property along Route 589 for the eventual widening of the roadway, even if it’s just a portion of the roadway. Drewer’s thoughts on a turn lane being potentially added to Route 50 confirm that.
The fact is Route 589 is dangerous today. Leaving the racetrack and trying to make a left toward Route 50 can be a trying feat, particularly this time of year and during race nights. Something will need to be done to 589 and dualization is probably the best bet to make it safest. When that will happen is anyone’s guess right now.
We think the best route to improve safety will be a series of smaller improvements, such as another lane for ingress and egress for the track and certainly a traffic light. It’s best to adjust the mindset to think small and immediate, rather than grandiose and long-term.