County to get transit funds

$248 million due for projects including I-95 intersection upgrade

October 08, 2006|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,special to the sun

Harford County stands to receive $248 million in state funding for local road improvements over the next six years for projects including interstate improvements aimed at accommodating the coming military expansion and a beautification project for the streets of the county seat.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan outlined several road projects, including the planned start of construction next summer on upgrades of the intersection of Interstate 95 and Route 24, and nearby Route 924, the most congested and dangerous intersection in the county.

Also, $7.6 million was allotted for a beautification plan for downtown Bel Air that Mayor Terence O. Hanley said "will completely change the character of Main Street."

Flanagan's visit to the county was his fourth stop in an annual statewide budget tour to discuss the six-year capital transportation budget for 2007 to 2012.

He presented his road budget proposal - an increase of 71 percent over last year's projection - to members of the county's General Assembly delegation during a meeting in County Council chambers.

Harford officials had a mixed reaction to the secretary's visit. Several said they were pleased with the funding but had hoped for more.

"You don't always get everything you want for Christmas," said County Executive David R. Craig. "You might have to wait until Easter."

Del. Barry Glassman, the Republican chairman of the county delegation, likened the road-funding budget to the funding process for new schools.

"As with school construction, our transportation needs are great and we wish they could move along at a faster pace," he said. "I was glad to see the I-95 and Route 24 project on the books. That's a dangerous situation there."

Improvements at the intersection have been a priority of the county for the past five years. The high traffic volume leaves drivers stopped on I-95 as they wait to exit, resulting in about 21 percent more accidents than at similar intersections in other parts of Maryland, according to the State Highway Administration.

With the downtown Bel Air project, "we will have brick sidewalks, new crosswalks, and there will be an island filled with plants in front of the courthouse that you drive around," Hanley said. "We'll have new lampposts that will provide a feel of old-town Bel Air."

The town had hoped for more, he said, expressing disappointment that a plan to make the Bel Air bypass a dual-lane road from one end to the other "was not even on the radar screen."

"Our concern is that a lot of the people moving into the area as a result of BRAC will be moving to Bel Air, Fallston, Baldwin and Churchville," he said, referring to the military base realignment. "That's going to put greater demand on that bypass. The state may want to take a new look at the bypass situation and maybe move it up on the priority list."

Glassman said he was glad to see the state focusing on transportation improvements that will be needed to accommodate the impending growth at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The state is considering a new exit off I-95 to accommodate the expected increase in traffic to APG.

Glassman also wanted lanes added to Route 22 from Bel Air to Aberdeen.

"Even now, traffic will back up at [Harford Community College] for several miles," he said. "It will get worse when the new jobs come to APG."

Glassman said he has had preliminary talks with Flanagan about having the flexibility to fast-track road projects when needed. He said that when the military added 10,000 jobs at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in the mid-1990s, St. Mary's County had the flexibility to pave road shoulders to add lanes.

"When Route 22 becomes gridlocked, we will not be able to wait six years," Glassman said. "We will need to expedite the process."

In another project related to the BRAC influx, Flanagan said he is working on a plan to address concern about the $5-a-car toll on I-95 near Perryville.

Cecil County officials have long argued that the toll separates the county from the economic vitality of the rest of Maryland. Cecil is expected to help accommodate the APG expansion, but officials fear that companies moving to the region as a result of BRAC will not want to locate in their county because of the toll.

The transportation secretary declined to disclose details about his proposal for the toll booth.

Once Flanagan completes his state tour, the administration will present its transportation budget proposals to the General Assembly. Lawmakers won't be able to add projects but can remove them.

Despite the announcement, a State Highway Administration spokeswoman said the money designated for each county is not locked in.

"It's a six-year budget," Erin Henson said. "It's like a rolling budget that is re-evaluated each year. It is updated every fall. It can change. It can go up or down."

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