Pax River CO discusses base traffic issues
With mass transit not possible, FDR Boulevard is hope for relief
Tens of thousands of vehicles are on Three Notch Road each weekday on the way to Patuxent River Naval Air Station, the largest employer in St. Mary’s County.
The morning and evening commutes can be lengthy, depending on conditions. Sometimes it takes longer to get onto the base in times of heightened securi- ty. Sometimes it takes longer to get out of the base if there is a serious accident on northbound Route 235, or even a minor accident on the Gov. Thomas Johnson Bridge to Calvert County.
On Tuesday, Navy officials and the St. Mary’s County commissioners discussed daily traffic issues and what can be
done to alleviate those conditions.
The Maryland State Highway Administration recently retimed the traffic signals on Route 235, which appears to have improved congestion somewhat, officials said. Patuxent River NAS also uses staggered work schedules for the 22,000 people who work there.
There is also a federal stipend for workers who use mass transit and carpool options, but in St. Mary’s mass transit options are severely limited.
“We hear you. Traffic is an issue in St. Mary’s County and in Southern Maryland,” Capt. Jason Hammond, commanding officer of Patuxent River NAS, told the county commissioners.
“There’s quite a bit that can be done. A lot of it is not completely in control of the installation. A lot of it is,” he said. “Particularly in the afternoons, Three Notch Road is pretty much populated with Naval Air Station Patuxent River personnel. So we look at this problem.”
The average daily count on vehicles on Route 235 in California last year was 59,970, according to the SHA, just slightly more than the number of daily vehicles on U.S. 301 in northern Charles County.
There is a $255 monthly stipend available that is not well known, Hammond said, for all federal employees who use mass transit or carpools to get to work.
“This has been around for a long time,” Commission President Randy Guy (R) said, who noted using mass transit options at the Pentagon when he was in the Air Force.
There are three gates to the Pax River base, and there is the possibility of establishing high-occupancy vehicle lanes for vans, buses and bikes, Hammond said. “But we gotta have a lot of things to come together before that happens, but that is something we’re looking at,” the captain said.
But “figuring out how to move people on base without their personal vehicle” is a key issue, he said. In 2012 there were up to 18 van pools in use, which now is down to four.
At gates 1 and 2, additional inbound lanes are allowed during the morning commute by reversing the flow of outbound lanes. In the morning there are four inbound lanes into Gate 1 and an extra lane at Gate 2. There are also additional security guards — two per lane during the peak hours to allow more vehicles to pass, Hammond said.
Almost 93 percent of the employees at Pax River are driving into work alone in their vehicles.
In working with the SHA, the retiming of traffic lights on Route 235 has helped to move traffic through quickly as well, Hammond said. Staggered work schedules are already an option, where employees can start and end their workday earlier. He said he would like to see more workers start and end their shifts later in the day.
Other long-term transportation options would be a ferry service across the Patuxent River and a new bridge over the river between Calvert and St. Mary’s counties.
A ferry was in service between Solomons Island and Patuxent River NAS between 1942 and 1977 made up of three boats — Miss Solomons, Miss Maxine and Miss Gray Skin. The ferry trip across the Patuxent River was typically 20 minutes long and carried about 45 people each day. The ferry service ended when the new $26 million Johnson bridge opened in December 1977. Before that two-lane bridge was built, people in southern Calvert had to drive north to Prince Frederick and use the Route 231 bridge over to Benedict, and then drive south to St. Mary’s, which took about an hour and a half.
Today’s estimate to replace the Johnson bridge is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Just designing the new four-lane bridge is estimated to cost $41 million, and that isn’t fully funded by the state.
FDR Boulevard, a new $43.5 million road, is being built by St. Mary’s County government from St. Andrew’s Church Road in California to Chancellor’s Run Road. The next phase is to then build it south to Pegg Road, at Gate 1 of the base.
“We are very excited about the FDR project,” Hammond said. “I believe it will have a big impact on what occurs on Three Notch” Road.