BERLIN — Questions arose this week over the timing of the ongoing Route 50 repaving project during the height of the summer season, but State Highway Administration (SHA) officials said Wednesday there were fiscal reasons for the start of the project and the work should be completed by the middle of next week.
Throughout much of the summer thus far, SHA crews have been working on an extensive repaving project along a seven-mile stretch of eastbound Route 50 from just west of Berlin to the Herring Creek bridge. Many in the community have questioned the timing of the extensive repaving project along the main corridor to the resort area during the busy summer season, but SHA officials said this week a large segment of the funding was set to expire on July 1, the end of fiscal year 2012, and was at risk of being lost if the project was not started when it was.
SHA risked losing $500,000 in state funding dedicated to the project in the fiscal year 2012 budget if it didn’t begin repaving the section of Route 50 between Berlin and West Ocean City just after Memorial Day. The remaining $2.3 million for the project is included in the state’s fiscal year 2013 budget.
Some have questioned why the project was not started in the spring before the arrival of the summer season and a spike in traffic along the corridor, but SHA officials said the funding was not available until late spring, providing a narrow window to start the project or risk losing the money.
“Ideally we would have preferred to begin construction in the spring, but we could not begin the resurfacing prior to Memorial Day because the project was not funded for construction,” said SHA District 1 Assistant Engineer of Construction Greg Holsey this week. “Funding for this project recently became available given the poor existing pavement conditions and associated safety concerns.”
SHA officials said they were cognizant of the timing issues along the main corridor to the resort areas and attempted to adjust the work schedule to minimize the impact on the flow of traffic to the resort. For example, the project began just after the Memorial Day holiday and hours have been restricted to 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. with no work allowed Friday through Sunday.
“We decided we would better serve our customers in the long term by completing the project as soon as possible,” said Holsey. “Keeping in mind the time of year and associated traffic volumes, we restricted both work hours and work days that contract activity is allowed in an effort to minimize the disruption to our highway users. We will continue to monitor these restrictions and adjust as needed.”
SHA officials said most major road construction projects throughout the rest of Maryland are scheduled in the summer months to minimize traffic impacts and take advantage of favorable weather conditions. For years, SHA officials have attempted to avoid highway projects in and around the resort area in the summer months for obvious reasons, most importantly to not impede the flow of hundreds of thousands of visitors to Ocean City. However, given the fiscal constraints, SHA officials had little recourse but to start the Route 50 project in late May this year.
SHA Project Engineer Darnell Hall said crews have been cognizant of the importance of the flow of traffic along the corridor and have adjusted the schedule accordingly. In addition, the off-and-on heat waves have resulted in adjustments to the work schedule.
“Working with the contractor, SHA has shut down work on the project early, usually by no later than noon, on several days for either of two reasons,” he said. “First, when the temperature was so hot that it became dangerous for the workers to avoid the possibility of heat stroke. Also, whenever traffic started to back-up heavily, we would also completely shut down for the rest of the day.”
Hall said there were obvious times to halt the project, including the days leading up to the Fourth of July, which fell mid-week this year. Hall said the project is progressing and should wrap up next week.
“There was no roadwork whatsoever during the week of July Fourth because of the high volume of traffic that was expected,” he said. “Of the seven miles of milling and resurfacing that was required, only two miles remain which will allow us to finish the project entirely by next Wednesday.”