Com­mis­sion­ers, state dis­cuss trans­porta­tion pri­or­i­ties, is­sues

Record Observer - - News - By MIKE DAVIS mdavis@kibay­times.com

CENTREVILLE — Of­fi­cials from the Mary­land De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion gath­ered in the Lib­erty Build­ing on Tues­day, Nov. 2, to re­view with the county its Draft FY 2017 – FY 2022 Con­sol­i­dated Trans­porta­tion Pro­gram. The plan de­tails the de­part­ment’s six-year cap­i­tal bud­get and is re­viewed and up­dated an­nu­ally with the state’s 23 coun­ties and Bal­ti­more City.

MDOT of­fi­cials in­cluded Deputy Sec­re­tary Jim Ports, Deputy Ad­min­is­tra­tor Greg Slater, State High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion Dis­trict En­gi­neer Greg Holsey, Field Op­er­a­tions Di­rec­tor Richard Nor­man, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Milt Chaf­fee, Act­ing Project Plan­ning and Pro­gram Devel­op­ment Di­rec­tor Melissa Wil­liams and Lo­cal Tran­sit Sup­port Di­rec­tor Beth Krei­der.

Dur­ing the Queen Anne’s County Com­mis­sion meet­ing on July 12, the board unan­i­mously ap­proved its pri­or­ity let­ter in which it placed the fol­low­ing projects in or­der of im­por­tance to the county. Ev­ery year the com­mis­sion sub­mits trans­porta­tion projects to be con­sid­ered in the Con­sol­i­dated Trans­porta­tion Pro­gram.

This year the com­mis­sion chose the fol­low­ing projects for fund­ing, though none were added to the FY 2016-2022 pro­gram: plan­ning and full fund­ing for safety and ca­pac­ity im­prove­ments along the Wil­liam Pre­ston Lane Jr. Memorial Bay Bridge; en­hance safety and ca­pac­ity along Mary­land Route 18, mainly for road­way and pedes­trian im­prove­ments; con­struc­tion of an in­ter­change at U.S. Route 50 and Mary­land Route 213; and funds for tran­sit ser­vices, in­clud­ing fund­ing for ve­hi­cle pur­chases.

Though none of the pri­or­i­ties were added to the CTP, the county will re­ceive $604,000 to sup­port its County Ride tran­sit pro­gram. The county will re­ceive $3.8 mil­lion in High­way User Rev­enue monies. In to­tal, the gover­nor will spend $1.3 bil­lion in­vest­ing in roads and bridges through­out the state.

To help re­duce the num­ber of mo­tor ve­hi­cle fa­tal­i­ties, about a quar­ter of the 521 in 2015 were pedes­trian deaths, Ports rec­om­mended coun­ties adopt the state’s Strate­gic High­way Safety Plan or for coun­ties to make their own plan. Ports said Gov. Ho­gan has made $12.5 mil­lion in high­way safety grants avail­able, of which Queen Anne’s County’s Sher­iff’s Of­fice will re­ceive $9,000.

There are cur­rently 69 struc­tures to re­ceive im­prove­ments based on Gov. Ho­gan’s 2015 an­nounce­ment to fix all struc­turally de­fi­cient state-owned bridges in Mary­land. Of those projects, 15 have been com­pleted, 15 are un­der con­struc­tion and 25 are funded for con­struc­tion, Jim Ports said.

The NEPA study will take about 48 months to com­plete, Ports said, and will look at bridge al­ter­na­tives and will out­line sev­eral po­ten­tial op­tions. Deputy Ad­min­is­tra­tor Greg Slater said the Tier One NEPA study is needed to un­der­stand the im­pli­ca­tions a new bridge span would have on the state’s tran­sit sys­tem, to un­der­stand en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pli­ca­tions and other fac­tors to help guide how the bridge would be paid for and how to build it, he said. Slater said sev­eral hun­dred NEPA ac­tions are given per year and men­tioned the re­cent com­ple­tion of one for the Thomas John­son Bridge in St. Mary’s County that took 10 years.

Sen. Steve Her­shey said though the county wishes the process didn’t take four years, there are rea­sons why it does. Her­shey said most projects like this end up in some sort of lit­i­ga­tion, “and if you don’t go through the proper steps, you don’t end up win­ning when it gets to court.”

Com­mis­sioner Jim Mo­ran, after ques­tion­ing of­fi­cials about as­pects of the NEPA study, said traf­fic caused by the vol­umes of ve­hi­cles cross the bridge and trav­el­ing through Queen Anne’s County is af­fect­ing lo­cal busi­nesses, cit­i­zens and emer­gency ser­vices dur­ing sum­mer months.

Mo­ran said he ap­plauded Gov. Ho­gan for be­gin­ning the needed study and un­der­stood the state has to go through the mo­tions. “We need help now,” he said. “We need help now on those crit­i­cal months with traf­fic is­sues that aren’t Queen Anne’s traf­fic is­sues.”

Ports said the state rec­og­nizes the prob­lem but said there is no “magic wand” to fix the $75 bil­lion of need in its trans­porta­tion net­work with a $14.4 bil­lion al­lo­ca­tion. “The process does have to start some­where and we’re start­ing that process,” Ports said. “But if you’re ask­ing to fix the whole Bay Bridge in four years that just can’t hap­pen.”

For short-term so­lu­tions, Sher­iff Gary Hof­mann rec­om­mended clos­ing off ramps along U.S. 50 dur­ing the sum­mer months to help rid peo­ple on Route 18, which is an­other traf­fic bur­den for the county as trav­el­ers move from the high­way to back roads, caus­ing is­sues with lo­cal traf­fic and emer­gency ser vices.

Hof­mann said with min­i­mal fi­nances needed, clos­ing ramps could be a short­term so­lu­tion to some of the back­road back­logs. Slater said the state would look into fund­ing sources for lo­cal law en­force­ment agencies to po­ten­tially in­stall his so­lu­tion.

“Get­ting on the is­land is a ma­jor is­sue for law en­force­ment, fire and EMS, but it’s re­ally a ma­jor is­sue for a per­son who lives on Route 8 or a per­son who lives in Ch­ester,” Hof­mann said.

Com­mis­sioner Mark An­der­son sug­gested po­ten­tially trans­fer­ring Route 18 into con­trol of the county rather than the state.

Com­mis­sioner Jack Wil­son ex­pressed con­cern for sev­eral in­ter­sec­tions

in the north­ern part of the county, as well as in Cecil and Kent coun­ties. Wil­son said at least five in­ter­sec­tions are “at grade.” But with the Delaware By­pass project un­der­way, which is ex­pected to be com­pleted in De­cem­ber 2018 and will route more than 40,000 es­ti­mated trav­el­ers through the county, Wil­son is con­cerned those in­ter­sec­tions will be­come a greater prob­lem.

“More trac­tor-trailer cars go­ing down here at 75 mph,”Wil­son said. “We’re go­ing to see a lot more deaths at those at-grade in­ter­sec­tions. I’ve seen three my­self just this past year.”

Wil­son said on that end of US 301, fam­i­lies go to Ch­ester­town for hos­pi­tal ser­vices a lot of times, “if you’ve

got this in­crease [in] traf­fic vol­ume, we’ve got these in­ter­sec­tions that are dan­ger­ous to cross, it will be very hard for am­bu­lances to get across to the hos­pi­tal.”

Greg Holsey, State High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion dis­trict en­gi­neer, said safety im­prove­ments such as j-turns could be a so­lu­tion as they have been successful else­where in the state.

Her­shey wanted to know what the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion were with other states re­gard­ing projects, such as the 404 by­pass project, be­cause in some sit­u­a­tions it is solv­ing a prob­lem for one state but cre­at­ing a larger one for its bor­der state. Ports said the state col­lab­o­rates with the sur­round­ing states for up­com­ing projects that might have af­fects out­side of Mary­land but at the end of the day can­not con­trol any of those en­ti­ties and their de­ci­sions.

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