Which roads make the grade?
Talbot council sends roads priorities to state
EASTON — Even as the Talbot County Council was deliberating county priorities for state road projects, the state’s transportation agencies were about to announce an imminent project for relieving congestion at a key intersection in St. Michaels.
During the Tuesday, March 27, meeting of the Talbot County Council meeting, County Roads Superintendent Warren Edwards, Engineer Ray Clarke and Assistant Engineer Mike Mertaugh presented road project priorities for the Maryland Department of Transportation and State Highway Administration.
Every year, the council asks the state to fund priority state highway projects in the county.
“Unfortunately, they are the same projects (we’ve listed) for the last four or five years,” Clarke said. “Until funding changes within the state, we might continue this.”
Although not specifically listed as a county priority, council Vice President Corey Pack brought up the
issue of “bottlenecking on state Route 33 in St. Michaels.” He said he hoped SHA would make a decision and asked if Clarke had heard from SHA.
Clarke said he had sent emails to Greg Holsey, the SHA District 2 engineer, who said he was working with the town of St. Michaels. One of the issues concerning merchants was the possible loss of parking spaces if a left turn were created at Railroad Avenue.
Two days later, MDOT/ SHA announced in a press release that SHA will begin, during the week of April 1, an $80,000 project to “add a left turn lane from westbound MD 33 (Talbot Street) onto Railroad Avenue. The project will take just a few days and require only minimal paving and striping, but the change will significantly reduce midtown backups by separating turning vehicles from through traffic at this busy intersection.” Three parking spaces on Route 33 west will be eliminated.
During the council’s discussion of state road improvement priorities, Pack and Councilman Dirck Bartlett gave MDOT/SHA credit for constructing the new Dover Bridge connecting Talbot and Caroline counties, and for the state Route 404 dualization.
However, topping the list of priorities for Bartlett and Councilman Laura Price was “MD Route 33 Capacity and Evacuation Improvements.”
According to the list, “portions of this corridor, between the Town of St. Michaels and the Town of Easton, experience some weekday capacity issues which are anticipated to increase in the future. Also, during recent weatherrelated emergencies such as Tropical Storm Isabel and Hurricane Irene, this corridor experienced areas of significant flooding, limiting ingress and egress from this portion of the County. The MD Route 33 corridor is the sole evacuation route for this populated neck or peninsula. Accordingly, capacity improvements as well as elevation modification to eliminate or minimize storm surge road flooding, should be pursued.”
“Raising of the roadways in the event of flooding is the number one priority, and our biggest potential problem,” Bartlett said.
Clarke said while they are state highway projects, the county has evaluated culverts in the Bay Hundred area and replaced some, citing as an example the culvert at Station Road at Newcomb.
Clarke said they plan to incorporate some improvements related to sewer work in St. Michaels.
“We’re trying to do everything we can,” Clarke said.
Bartlett and Price asked Clarke, Mertaugh and Edwards to communicate the top priority need to the state with visuals depicting the “top 10 areas of the county prone to flooding and the effect in the event of a mass evacuation as a way of marketing to the state how bad this situation is,” Bartlett said.
“We need to have visuals and handouts to make a bigger impression,” Bartlett said. “Dover Bridge, Route 404 and all are all great, but if we do have a storm and emergency vehicles are cut off from responding because they can’t get through because of water — it’s a real vulnerability that we have. We have to start a marketing campaign to get the money out of the state.”
Price agreed. She said photos are important and that she used them when testifying (about state highway user revenues) in Annapolis.
“I showed a picture of Mr. Edwards standing in one of those big ol’ gaping holes. I got some chuckles, but people were also looking at that,” Price said. “Let’s have pictures of flooding ready (when MDOT/SHA) comes around in the fall.”
“We do have a map within Emergency Management Services that identifies those low lying areas,” Clarke said. “The hard part for us is trying to find the funds.”
“Every time we fill up our gas tank, those funds are coming out of our pocket and going to the state of Maryland,” Bartlett said. “These are not insignificant issues for the people in the event of a big storm or hurricane. We’ve got to rely on you guys to identify the top 10 spots.”
Price also asked to have more effective wording to emphasize the urgency of the priority “for safety reasons.”
“We need to emphasize the emergency issues, not “capacity” in the first sentence,” Price said. “This is a big deal. Let’s sell it.”
Also part of priority number one is evaluating the heavy traffic volume at the intersection of Route 33 with Easton Parkway (state Route 322). “As an interim measure, the MD Route 33 corridor should be evaluated for any issues or problems that would need to be resolved in future improvements,” the priority report stated.
The recommended priority ranked second is improving capacity and safety at the intersections of U.S. Route 50, state Route 309 (Cordova Road) and state Route 662 (Longwoods Road).
The busy confluence of roads near Easton Airport/ Newnam Field also is the planned location for the relocated University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Easton as a future regional medical center.
Improving congestion and safety will require the “the construction of an overpass that meets FAA requirements and serves these facilities,” the report stated.
The third-ranked priority contained two subsections, with a third suggested by Pack. All focused on improving three busy intersections with Route 50 at Goldsborough Street, Dover Road and Chapel Road.
Pack added as priority number 3-C improving the eroded right turn segment on Chapel Road south onto Route 50.
“The priorities are up to you all,” Clarke said. “If you want us to change the priorities, we can do that. “We’re here to tell you that this is the priority list we’ve had for the last four to five years.
The council approved the amended list to include the five priorities and a revision of the first priority to emphasize safety issues rather than road capacity for Route 33. The list will be submitted to MDOT SHA for consideration. Follow me on Twitter @connie_stardem.
During the Tuesday, March 27, Talbot County Council meeting, County Roads Superintendent Warren Edwards, Engineer Ray Clarke and Assistant Engineer Mike Mertaugh present road project priorities for the Maryland Department of Transportation.