Improvements set for Beltway at Charles

STATE DIGEST

October 19, 2006

The State Highway Administration will spend $6.8 million to design an improved interchange at the Beltway and Charles Street -- a move it says will add traffic capacity and create a more attractive gateway to Lutherville.

The project will include replacement of the 51-year-old Charles Street Bridge with a wider span that will accommodate the addition of lanes to the Beltway, according to the agency. The state also announced it will spend $4.3 million to continue widening the west side of the Beltway by adding a fourth outer-loop lane between Ingleside Avenue and Frederick Road.

The projects are part of a flurry of transportation work announced by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in advance of the Nov. 7 election. The projects -- many of them long in the pipeline -- are fueled by a revenue package Ehrlich pushed through the General Assembly in 2004 to replenish a depleted Transportation Trust Fund, largely by increasing vehicle registration fees.

State Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan noted that his department is required to meet with local officials each fall, outlining projects being funded in each jurisdiction. "Certainly there's a happy coincidence between that statutory obligation and the fact there's an election," he said.

The Charles Street project affects an interchange that serves about 180,000 vehicles a day and is expected to carry 225,000 a day by 2030. The rebuilt interchange, expected to cost about $80 million, will include new ramps, turn lanes and sidewalks.

David Buck, a spokesman for the highway administration, said the Charles Street project could involve changes to the two-lane roundabout north of the intersection. Buck said that while the roundabout has increased safety at the interchange, it has also exacerbated delays for traffic on Bellona Avenue.

The funding isn't expected to bring improvements at the interchange in the short term. Buck said the design process could last more than two years, and that construction could take several more years.

MICHAEL DRESSER

Baltimore: Inner Harbor

State stops leasing space at World Trade Center

The Maryland Port Authority has stopped efforts to lease vacant space at the World Trade Center in Baltimore while it considers whether to sell the prominent skyscraper.

Deputy Transportation Secretary James F. Ports Jr. told the Board of Public Works yesterday that his department is considering six serious offers for the Inner Harbor office tower and will likely make a decision soon on whether to accept one. In the meantime, he said, the port authority is avoiding any decisions that could tie the hands of a potential buyer.

State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp questioned Ports about the center, saying she had heard from a tenant that the port authority wasn't responding to requests to renew a lease. Legislators have questioned whether the state will get the best price for the building if it isn't fully leased. Ports said some potential buyers might want a fully leased building, but that doesn't seem to be a consideration for most.

Two appraisals pegged the value of the building at $30 million and $37 million, but some have suggested the state could get more if the building were fully leased. It is more than half-empty.

ANDREW A. GREEN

Dorchester Co.: Little Blackwater

Board of Public Works OKs deal for 121 acres along river

The state agreed yesterday to purchase 121 acres on the Little Blackwater River, preserving for public recreation property near a stalled major development in Dorchester County.

The $1.6 million purchase, approved by the Board of Public Works yesterday, gives Dorchester County its first waterfront parkland, said County Councilwoman Effie M. Elzey. The county will put up $10,000 for the purchase, and the state will pay the rest. Part of the land will be kept in agriculture, and the rest will be used for kayak and canoe access to the river.

Meredith Lathbury, director of land conservation for the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, said the land is about a half-mile downstream and on the other side of the Blackwater from the $1 billion golf course development planned for land recently annexed into the city of Cambridge. This month, the state Critical Areas Commission blocked much of that plan.

ANDREW A. GREEN

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