Prospects dim for highway projects

U.S. 1-Route 175 interchange, highway widening are crucial, Howard and Arundel leaders argue

July 06, 2008|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun reporter

The highway that leaders of Anne Arundel and Howard counties most want improved is Route 175 connecting Fort Meade to the busy intersection at U.S. 1 in Jessup, but prospects look dim for sufficient state money any time soon.

For the second year in a row, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman made planning for a new U.S. 1 interchange with Route 175 his top priority in a letter to John D. Porcari, Maryland's transportation secretary. Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold also said widening the road that connects the two counties is his top highway priority, especially with the influx of workers expected within the next three years with the relocation of military base personnel.

But although the intersection and the widening of Route 175 eastward into Anne Arundel County are thought to be important regionally, state officials say they don't have the money to plan for the entire project.

"I joke that BRAC [the military base realignment] stands for 'Better Rely on Assistance from the County,'" Leopold said.

He pointed out that even if the state could fully pay for the projects, construction would take a decade, while the BRAC-fueled expansion will be here in one-third of that time.

Said Ulman, "These two projects are of vital importance to serve BRAC-related commuter traffic anticipated within the next few years."

In addition to the Jessup interchange on U.S. 1, Howard wants Route 175 widened between Interstate 95 in Howard County and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway across the Anne Arundel line. Studies are under way to widen the rest of Route 175 as it nears Fort Meade.

Dick Story, chief executive officer of Howard County's Economic Development Authority, said the widening also is needed to help ease truck congestion at the Maryland Wholesale Food Center along Route 175 just east of U.S. 1.

"It's incredibly important for our success," Story said, not only to prepare for the time when more Fort Meade-area employees are streaming back and forth from homes in Howard County, but to aid the U.S. 1 redevelopment.

"We know they're important. We know they're needed. They were needed before BRAC," said Andy Scott, special assistant to Porcari for economic development.

Scott and Jack Cahalan, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation, said there is no separate funding for BRAC projects, and the state, faced with limited funds, is concentrating transportation spending on projects very near or at the three bases that are to get the influx - Fort Meade, Aberdeen Proving Ground and Bethesda Naval Hospital.

"There's no separate pot of money," Cahalan said. "The State Highway Administration is focused on those improvements closest to the bases themselves."

The state has set aside about $45 million for improvements connected with each of those three installations.

Howard's request for an interchange on U.S. 1 to eliminate the surface intersection there now is too large for the money available anyway, Cahalan said.

As far as transit is concerned, Ulman's priority is money to replace another seven of the bright green Howard Transit buses with hybrid vehicles.

"As fuel prices rise, the decision to acquire hybrid vehicles is proving to be an environmentally sound investment as well as the right choice for the environment," Ulman wrote to Porcari.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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