404 widening plan raises questions
QUEEN ANNE — Several of the 60-plus people who turned out Wednesday evening, Aug. 3, to find out more about the Md. 404 Widening Project had concerns about the plans — some involving personal property rights and some about safety and emergency response. The Maryland State Highway Administration hosted the meeting at the Queen Anne-Hillsboro firehouse, where large maps set up around the hall displayed designs showing portions of the highway and nearby properties involved.
The long-awaited dualization of Md. 404 between U.S. Route 50 and the Denton bypass was recently fast-tracked when Gov. Larry Hogan put it on his list of priority transportation projects. When finished, Md. 404 in that area will be a four-lane divided highway with wide shoulders and a 34-ft. median with traffic barrier. Plans call to complete the remaining 9.2 miles of the project by spring 2018 at a cost of $160.5 million ($36 million state, $124.5 million federal), according to an SHA information sheet.
The project will improve safety and operations and reduce traffic congestion, according to SHA.
There was no formal presentation. Citizens wandered between the different maps and asked questions of officials stationed around the room. Several government officials attended, including Caroline County Commissioner Wilbur Levengood, 36th District Del. Jeff Ghrist and Md. Sen. Addie Eckardt.
Attorney Chip MacLeod of Chestertown was there with his client Bill Sylvester of Queen Anne. He said Sylvester is “justifiably concerned as the largest landowner affected by this project.”
The widening project affects large portions of Sylvester’s property — some part of the current project at the Tuckahoe Bridge and Md. 309 intersection and more in the new project, which affects his home, Partnership Farm. His house, which is listed on the National Historic Registry, is not affected, but the lane to the house and the property along the highway are.
Previous plans for dualizing Md. 404 showed lanes being added on the other side of the highway, he said.
Sylvester said he believes the design was too hasty and the state has been “less than truthful” in dealing with him.
“They’re not dealing good faith,” he said.
Sylvester would like the state to rebuild his lane to maintain the curve and view from his house and give him room to recreate the buffer he will lose when his trees are removed to make way for the widened road.
“And, a year and a half later, they still haven’t settled with me” on the current project, he said.
Sylvester was pleased, however, that plans to put five storm water management ponds on his property have changed and now call for only one.
Bob Clancy of Denton said he was assured by the real estate company when he bought his house that the 404 project wouldn’t touch his property, now the state wants to take his property for a water drainage area.
“And they’ve offered me a ridiculous sum of money for it,” Clancy said.
The state has offered $131 for the duration of the project, for disrupting his life for more than a year, he said.
He said he has put his house on the market, but no one is interested because of the project.
Also, expect drivers to go 80 mph once the road is dualized, Clancy warned. Several people grumbled about the “reach the beach” mentality.
Plans displayed showed where all at-grade crossings between U.S. Route 50 and Md. 309 will be eliminated. Existing crossovers will become T-intersections where drivers can only make righthand turns. So, those on the south side of Md. 404 will only be able to turn east; those coming from north of Md. 404 will only be able to turn west. in
In order to travel in the opposite direction, drivers will have to go about a mile down the road to a new J-turn, with the exception of Owens Road. Because of its proximity to U.S. Route 50, there’s not room to create a J-turn, said Rob Marchetti with SHA. As plans now stand, drivers coming from Owens Road who want to go east on Md. 404 will first have to go west, cross over U.S. Route 50 and turn around somewhere on the other side.
Eliminating all the left turns creates problems, especially for farm equipment and emergency vehicles, people said.
Firefighter Dave Chaires, a volunteer with QA-Hillsboro Volunteer Fire Company, said the plan is just unacceptable.
Removing any left turn is going to impact response time, he said. And, because there’s no J-turn beyond Owens Road, there’s no way for the fire company to respond to calls on Newtown Road — not without having to go all the way to U.S. Route 50 and turn around on or beyond it.
SHA has suggested emergency vehicles take the previous J-turn, travel back to Dulin Road and go in “the back way” — no one said how much time that would add to response.
SHA District II Engineer Greg Holsey said he would set up a meeting with the fire department to discuss their concerns and see what could be done.
SHA Community Liaison Bob Rager said the Md. 404 Widening Project was bid as a design-build project, meaning only 15 to 20 percent of the project was designed when it was bid, and the contractors are design-build partners who know there may be changes along the way.
The contractor is “404 Corridor Safety Constructors,” which is a partnership among David A. Bramble, Wagman Heavy Civil and Allan Myers, Rager said. Bramble will work the west end of this project; Wagman will concentrate on the middle section and structures including the bridge over Norwich Creek; Allan Myers will focus primarily on the eastern section toward Denton.
Work is already in progress, mostly clearing and installation of construction entrances. By September you’ll see quite a bit of activity throughout the 9.2 mile project, he said.
Meanwhile, the current project in Queen Anne, which started in 2014, is nearing completion. Expect to see a traffic shift after Labor Day, Rager said.
“We’re going to shift traffic onto the new westbound bridge over Tuckahoe Creek shortly after Labor Day and run one lane in each direction while we complete bioswale and traffic barrier work. When this is done, we’ll complete installation of new signals at the Md. 309 intersection, pave the entire project length with surface asphalt, stripe and open all lanes,” Rager said.
He said he expects final striping to be complete and all four lanes to be open by the end of October.
“We’ll still have seasonal landscaping and punch-list items into 2017, but with good weather we expect this phase to be substantially complete and fully open to traffic this year,” Rager said.
As for the new portion of the project, the governor’s initiative calls for the four lanes to be done and open by Thanksgiving 2017, he said, and finishing touches should be completed by spring 2018.
According to an SHA handout, 21,150 vehicles regularly travel this section of Md. 404, and that number increases by 20 percent during summer months.
For more information on the widening project, visit MD404Project.com.
Attorney Chip MacLeod of Chestertown, left, asks SHA Project Manager Harry Smith of Millington a question about the design for the widening of Md. 404. Del. Jeff Ghrist, R-36-Caroline, observes at far right.