Commissioners, state discuss transportation priorities, issues
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.