WASHINGTON – Clinton administration officials, federal lawmakers and state officials preliminarily agreed Thursday on a $150 million plan to turn two dangerous sections of a major Eastern Shore beach route into a four-lane divided highway.
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kent, and Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes, along with officials from five federal agencies and the State Highway Administration, backed the two-year plan for U.S. Route 113.
State Highway Administrator Parker Williams called the plan the “number 1 safety project in the state of Maryland.”
Since 1980 there have been 48 fatalities along the 23.8 miles of road that would be widened under the plan.
Route 113, a four-lane divided highway in Delaware, turns into a two-lane highway at the Maryland border. It becomes a four-lane highway north of Berlin for a short time before resuming two-lanes status again south of Berlin.
Route 113 is a major thoroughfare for Maryland vacationers headed to Ocean City and other beach destinations.
The officials agreed on the first step of the process — where and how the road would be turned into a uniform, four-lane divided highway.
The plan calls for a new road to be built from the area north of Berlin to north of Showell. The rest of the project calls for an expansion of the existing route.
A 34-foot wide median would divide the new highway sections.
Seventeen houses and five businesses would be displaced to make way for the road, and 13 acres of wetlands would be lost.
Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Army Corps of Engineers said they will agree to the plan if new wetlands are created elsewhere.
Wetlands would have to be replaced at a ratio higher than they are lost because of the value of the existing wetlands, which include rare Bald Cypress trees, said Michelle Gomez, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers biologist.
Gilchrest, who organized the Capitol Hill meeting, said he is working on securing $24 million for the project in this year’s House highway spending bill.
Thursday’s action was applauded by a leading activist for the Route 113 expansion.
“I’ve been amazed at the responsiveness of our elected officials and our agencies,” said Bob Hulburd, president of County Residents Action for Safer Highways.