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I-81 makes the list

Ehrlich to ask feds for wider interstate.

Ehrlich to ask feds for wider interstate.

March 14, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Improvements to Interstate 81 in Washington County made the state's wish list of major transportation projects over the next six years.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich announced Thursday that he's asking the federal government for $10.6 million for the widening project. The money would cover design and engineering costs.

The statewide wish list includes $1.4 billion in highway projects and $662 million in mass transit initiatives.

"We want to be aggressive, have an aggressive transportation agenda," Ehrlich said.

Transportation Secretary Robert Flanagan said that Maryland will be up against stiff competiton from around the country, particularly for a piece of the $6 billion mass transit pie. About half of that is earmarked for other projects.

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Ehrlich said being a Republican and former Congressman will help Maryland's position.

"In some respects, it's about power politics," he said.

Ehrlich said his top priority will be getting more than $800 million to build the Intercounty Connector that will link the Interstate 270 corridor in Montgomery County and the Interstate 95/U.S. 1 corridors in Prince George's County.

In Frederick County, Ehrlich is asking for $27.6 million to reconstruct the Md. 85/Interstate 270 interchange in Frederick County and widen Md. 85 in that area. He also wants $16.88 million for the next phase of improvements to the Interstate 70 interchange at Md. 85.

Washington County lawmakers said they were pleased with the I-81 request.

Maryland officials have been studying the best way to repair the state's 12 miles of I-81 as they deteriorate. At the same time, officials in West Virginia and Pennsylvania are working on improvement plans for their own stretches of the highway.

A public hearing will be held this fall to show people the latest design plans, said Neil Pedersen, deputy administrator for planning at the State Highway Administration.

It will take two or three years to have the plan approved and another two or three years to design it.

State Highway Administration statistics show that there were 276 vehicle accidents on Interstate 81 in Maryland from 1998 to 2000. About one-third involved heavy trucks.

Seven accidents involved fatalities, a higher rate than in the rest of the state.

Options for improvements include widening the interstate on the inside, improving the interchanges or doing nothing other than routine maintenance.

The State Highway Administration previously pegged the price of the interchange improvements at $210 million to $215 million and the cost of widening the interstate on the inside at $315 million to $320 million.

Highway officials scrapped an outside widening proposal after people protested at a meeting in June. Under that plan, four businesses and 44 homes might have been taken, many of them in the Lakeside Mobile Home Park off Halfway Boulevard, according to the State Highway Administration. The original estimated cost of that project was $425 million to $430 million.

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