Maryland investing in 'Reach the Beach' highway campaign

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(The Center Square) – To make it easier for tourists to reach Ocean City, Gov. Larry Hogan said Maryland is investing in highway improvements leading into the resort beach.

The governor announced that $15 million has been earmarked for the “Reach the Beach” campaign, which follows MD 90, the Ocean City Expressway, that was started 35 years ago by then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer. The efforts will support further highway construction projects designed to increase safety, access, and relieve traffic congestion.

The funding, according to the release, will allow the state’s Department of Transportation State Highway Administration to speed up planning efforts to move into the construction phase on a series of improvements in a 12-mile span of the expressway which includes U.S. 50 and MD 528, Coastal Highway.

“After decades of inaction, our goal has been to finally fulfill that ‘Reach the Beach’ mission,” Hogan said in the release. “By moving forward on a new Chesapeake Bay crossing and with the modernization of MD 90 – the Gateway to Ocean City – we will be providing a safe, efficient, 21st century transportation system for the Eastern Shore, which will allow us to continue to grow our economy, and which will ensure that Marylanders and visitors alike can enjoy all that Ocean City and the Eastern Shore have to offer.”

Meanwhile, Hogan announced on Friday an initiative for strategy to alleviate congestion at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, connecting Maryland’s western and Eastern Shore, via a $28 million crossing study.

Speaking to the Maryland Association of Counties’ summer conference last August, Hogan said the state had committed $850,000 through the Consolidated Transportation Program that would be spent on highway improvements along the MD 90 corridor, according to the release.

Hundreds of thousands of tourists, the release says, visit the beach community throughout the summer months using the expressway to enter the town. The western span of MD 90 at its intersection with U.S. 50 carries 33,000 vehicles per day into the resort.

MD 90 also serves the Town of Ocean Pines and surrounding communities, including Bishopville and Showell, and features significant congestion during traffic incidents on U.S. 50, near the southern end of the Ocean City peninsula. The highways also serve as hurricane evacuation routes.

According to the release, the highway improvements would also benefit first responders, and the improvements have been cited as transportation priorities by Worcester County and the town of Ocean City.

“MD 90 provides needed access to Ocean City for beachgoers, and also serves as a critical connector for residents and businesses,” Maryland Transportation Secretary James F. Ports Jr. said. “Governor Hogan’s commitment gives us the tools we need to deliver improvements in partnership with community residents, officials, and local agencies.”

MD 90, according to the release, was originally constructed in the 1970s to give tourists access to the northern end of Ocean City. The highway crosses the St. Martin River and Assawoman Bay using a pair of bridge spans. Plans are in place to expand those bridges.

The state’s highway administration currently has a virtual public meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. June 21 to help residents understand construction plans, details, and other information.