Pax River CO dis­cusses base traf­fic is­sues

With mass tran­sit not pos­si­ble, FDR Boule­vard is hope for re­lief

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By JA­SON BAB­COCK jbab­cock@somd­news.com

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.

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