Final plans revealed for Salisbury bypass Goal is to untangle summer beach traffic

August 11, 1993|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

Plans to curtail one of the Eastern Shore's least-favorite summer rituals, traffic backups on U.S. 50 in Salisbury, are showing signs of movement.

The State Highway Administration unveiled final plans this week for a 5.2-mile-long, six-lane bypass around the Wicomico County city. The highway would cost an estimated $72 million to build, including land acquisition.

The proposal would free Ocean City vacationers from suffering through Salisbury's numerous traffic signals, which long have been a major source of aggravation to vacationers and local residents.

The long-discussed bypass would be the final major project in a program to upgrade Maryland's highways leading to Atlantic Ocean resorts. Since the mid-1980s, in a program formerly known as "Reach the Beach," the state has spent more

than $500 million to widen and improve Route 404 and U.S. 50 as far west as the Capital Beltway

"We definitely feel it's a needed project," Neil J. Pedersen, the SHA's planning director, said of the Salisbury bypass. "The need is being driven as much by the needs of Salisbury residents as the beach traffic."

Officials cautioned that the SHA lacks the money to build the highway. Last year's 5-cent-a-gallon increase in the state gasoline tax allocated funds to plan and design the bypass, but not to build it.

Eastern Shore legislators say that provision was a political payback from Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer for their failing to support the tax increase. Mr. Lighthizer said the bypass simply was not as needed as other highway projects.

It will take at least two years to engineer the highway and secure the necessary wetlands permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, Mr. Peder


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sen said. Construction could start as early as 1995 if the state earns more money than expected from transportation revenue sources such as the gasoline tax, car registrations or titling fees. But Mr. Pedersen said there are no signs that the state's economy has improved enough to bring that about.

Salisbury's weekend bottlenecks have worsened as the city's population (20,592 in the 1990 census) has grown, along with the number of cars headed to the beaches. The city has far more cross traffic than do its smaller neighbors, Easton and Cambridge, which also have traffic lights on U.S. 50.

The proposed bypass would go through the northern end of town, crossing the Wicomico River and connecting with the northern half of the existing U.S. 13 bypass. The result would be three quarters of a beltway around Salisbury.

The alignment was unveiled by representatives of the SHA Monday

night in Salisbury. Officials said it is only slightly different from proposals that were discussed in the 1980s.

"Most people here in the community support it," said Salisbury Mayor Paul Martin. "From Friday afternoon to Sunday night, Route 50 is a hassle that splits our town in half. The people who are just passing through deserve better, too."

The state also is taking other steps designed to reduce traffic tie-ups. The SHA has begun buying land and easements along the highway on a voluntary basis to limit access to the road.

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