Report finds lack of desire for development along Route 301
CENTREVILLE — As traffic concerns grow, Queen Anne’s County Commissioners heard a report on the economic implications of development on Route 301 at their meeting Tuesday, Oct. 9.
The report, “The Likely
Implications of an Improved U.S.
301 in Queen Anne’s County,” was prepared by the Sage Policy Group of Baltimore for the Queen Anne’s County Economic Development Commission.
Among its focus areas, the 51page report included historic and projected traffic volumes, projected toll traffic from Delaware, projected population growth in the area, capacity for commercial development, impact of housing demand by 2030, economic impact of a distribution center, and the impact of investment into water and sewer improvements along Route 301 along with related data.
“One of the goals of a county with a large rural component is to balance that with commercial (endeavors),” said Anirban Basu, CEO of the Sage Policy Group. “Given what’s happened with Route 301, there’s an expected rapid pickup of traffic near the state line. Data shows that projections where it stabilizes in 2020 and 2021. Also, there’s a motivation to use Route
301 as an alternative to I-95.” The report draws a correlation between infrastructure and economic development and a spike in commercial revenue for the county.
According to the executive summar y, a similar circumstance occurred in neighboring Caroline County along Route 404. The abundance of property ripe for development made investment by the county precipitate the growth of the tax base.
Citing the investment into resources like broadband, the Sage Policy Group also highlighted the increased role of telecommuters to more urbanized centers like Washington D.C. and Philadelphia.
The study noted that roughly half of the state’s employment is rooted in freight transportation and related industries. That includes: warehousing, retail, agriculture, food processing, construction and manufacturing.
“I understand there are certain people who do not want to take advantage of these economic opportunities. In my economic impact study for Oxford, through focus groups, we got the message that some people didn’t want any economic development there. They didn’t want change,” continued Basu.
Thus, the report argues that Route 301 could become what some analysts have already coined as a potential “Bay freight corridor.” The addition of a distribution center, according to the report’s findings, would capitalize on the area’s most logical economic advantage.
Yet the report also underscores obstacles for the region achieving its economic potential. Improving Route 301 also pushes other logistic issues to the forefront such as the lack of at-grade crossings, lack of sewer and water infrastructure, and the need to widen areas of Route 301 in certain to accommodate the increased projected traffic.
The report also addressed tourism to a lesser extent noting signage could be created to highlight local attractions and create more revenue.
“Widening of Route 301 can create a tipping factor for both residential and commercial growth activity. That will create the incentive to close this retail gap. Queen Anne’s County has an estimated 12.2 million square feet of unincorporated, non-residential space for development,” Basu explained.
County Commissioners agreed, in theory, that growing the tax base was vital to the area’s long-term viability, but questioned portions of the data that showed the revenue brought in by commercial centers in neighboring Delaware.
County Commissioner Mark Anderson credited the lack of state sales tax across the state line as opposed to Maryland’s 6 percent as incentive for disparity. Also pointed out were previous efforts by Queen Anne’s County to entice large chain stores to relocate to similar locations. Among the difficulties cited included overall population density that is often smaller along large swaths of Route 301.
That same issue was noted as to why providing broadband internet was difficult in some areas. Currently, the county has already provided a response to the state Request for Information in order to receive funds to pursue federal monies to begin work on basic broadband infrastructure in underserved and unserved areas in the county.
Commissioners said the costly nature of extensive water and sewer line expansion in an area that would still more more time to bear financial fruit. The current county budget, according County Commission President Steve Wilson, is already providing funding at optimum levels while still including a cushion for a potential economic downturn.
“It’s observable in this county that Route 301 is quite an anomalous piece of road,” said Wilson. “On the Delaware side, it’s full of commercial (investment), but on this side, it becomes empty. Many of the businesses there eventually closed. We have an estimated 7,000 vehicles passing there now, and still nothing. Nothing indicates another 7,000 (motorists) will change that.”
Commissioners concluded by admitting that economic growth along Route 301 was possible, but only under circumstances that took the realities of the Queen Anne’s County into consideration.
From left, County Commissioners Mark Anderson, Jim Moran, Stevie Wilson and Jack Wilson hear the report by the Sage Policy Group.
Queen Anne’s County Economic Development Manager Jean Fabi, right, looks on as Anirban Basu, CEO of Sage Policy Group, delivers the economic report on Route 301.