County seeks roads money

Impending arrival of 20,000 commuters in BRAC-related jobs brings `now' priority

February 04, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

The impending arrival of 20,000 more daily commuters on Harford County's congested roads has officials scrambling for more highway money and widespread improvements to public transportation.

Even under optimum circumstances, road projects can take at least five years from design to construction, and that assumes no problems with funding, land acquisition or environmental issues.

The national military base realignment, known as BRAC, is expected to bring up to 60,000 jobs to Maryland by 2015, many at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"We should start yesterday to prioritize road improvements and begin building now," said James C. Richardson, Harford's economic development director.

BRAC will bring at least 20,000 more jobs to APG by 2015, he said. To handle the accompanying rise in traffic, the county will need major improvements along the U.S. 40 and Interstate 95 corridors; an extension of Route 715 from the post to I-95; and upgrades of Routes 7 and 755 in Edgewood, and Routes 159 and 22 in Aberdeen.

The recommendations were part of a sweeping assessment of infrastructure upgrades needed to meet the demands of BRAC.

A planning advisory commission released the report last week, and Richardson discussed it further during a meeting with Harford's Transportation Management Association, a community group that advocates for effective transportation. He pushed for timely road projects, additional train and bus lines and construction of terminals that can serve rail, bus and auto passengers.

Del. Barry Glassman, chairman of Harford's legislative delegation, said he has submitted a bill to identify projects, particularly roads, that will be needed because of BRAC. Any project linked to BRAC should receive priority funding, he said.

"We definitely have growth pressure pains coming," he said. "Because of the tight budget, we may have to do interim measures, such as added lanes, before we can do the larger projects."

Glassman said he hopes that BRAC-related road projects will make their way into the state's budget by 2008.

"I feel good about where we are right now," he said. "But anyone who thinks this will be done in less than five years is not being realistic."

The new administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley shows signs of being committed to BRAC, said Sen. Nancy Jacobs, who, like Glassman, is a Republican.

"We have sent O'Malley our list of priorities, and roads are at the top," she said. "The governor has shown he is sensitive to the issue, and we are hoping for full funding. It's imperative."

The governor has appointed Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown head of a sub-Cabinet of planning, transportation and other state officials assigned to find ways to meet the challenges posed by BRAC.

In a report issued last fall, the Baltimore-based Goldseker Foundation urged prompt action to improve the region's transportation network, including highways and transit.

The report outlined options for financing costly transportation projects at a time of budget constraints, including dedicating a portion of corporate income or property tax proceeds, or borrowing against expected tax revenue from BRAC-related jobs.

APG, which occupies more than 73,000 acres along the Chesapeake Bay in eastern Harford County, will gain 8,200 jobs on the post and 10,000 contractor jobs off the installation, Richardson said. It is expected to become a communications hub, and its annual budget for research and development will go from $3.5 billion to more than $10 billion, he said

About 60 percent of the new positions are expected to be filled by local residents because of retirements and the reluctance of many current employees at Fort Monmouth, N.J., to move with their jobs to Maryland, officials said. About 65 percent of the proving ground workers live in Harford now and nearly 13 percent in Cecil County.

"The reverse commute is going to be important," Richardson said. "People from Monmouth are used to living in an urban environment, not in the country. We expect to see more interest in Baltimore City because of its reasonable housing prices and tremendous infrastructure. This is the new urbanism. You can get from Canton to APG in 30 minutes."

Trains will become a key for commuters, he said.

"For the first time, we are talking seriously with the railroads about how we can get more trains to Harford," he said. "The rails can be the magic solution. It is easier than building anything else."

It costs $250 million to build a mile of subway and $50 million to build a mile of railroad, but adding trains to existing tracks is significantly less expensive, Richardson said.

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