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Millions expected in road funds, intersection in doubt

October 07, 2005|By TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Washington County is expected to receive $122 million from the state over the next six years for transportation projects, including $74 million from revenue generated by the state's gasoline and motor vehicle taxes.

But uncertainty remains over the design and cost of improvements to a busy intersection on Dual Highway, which some Washington County Commissioners say is the county's top transportation priority.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan, State Highway Administrator Neil Pedersen and several other transportation officials met with the commissioners Thursday to discuss the state's $13 billion proposed fiscal years 2006-2011 Consolidated Transportation Program.

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The state has budgeted $200,000 for an improvement concept plan for the Dual Highway (U.S. 40) and Edgewood Drive intersection.

The draft transportation budget does not yet include construction money for the project, which would be a joint effort of the state, county and City of Hagerstown.

"That intersection is a real priority for the county," Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said. "It's a mess. It's an unsafe intersection. It is so crowded. It's just a mess."

Nipps said financial details likely would be worked out after the concept plan is finished.

She said the concept plan would determine the types of improvements the intersection requires, what's feasible and what the state and local governments can afford.

In August 2004, Flanagan and Gov. Robert Ehrlich announced that Hagerstown, Washington County and the state would jointly fund planning and engineering work for improvements to the intersection.

At the time, State Highway Administration statistics showed that 30,000 vehicles per day travel along U.S. 40 at the intersection, a number that could double within 10 years.

Preliminary improvements include widening Dual Highway to provide three through lanes and double left-turn lanes, widening both legs of Edgewood Drive, drainage improvements and a new traffic signal, according to information provided by the state.

Pedersen said he anticipated the improvements to be expensive.

A preliminary cost estimate for improvements is $8 million, but that doesn't include buying rights-of-way or relocating utilities, officials said.

"It's not an easy project," Pedersen said. "We are really very focused on it ... but, quite frankly, the scope needed is very expensive."

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook told transportation officials the county is committed to working with the state on the project.

"This is clearly our biggest priority, and we want to work with the state to do this," Snook said. "If there's anything we can do, please leave us know."

"I would say it's probably the area we need to get working on the most," Commissioner James F. Kercheval said after the meeting.

Also included in the state's draft budget is $835,000 for a study on improvements to the 12-mile Interstate 81 stretch that runs through Washington County, including widening the highway.

Pedersen estimated the I-81 project would cost more than $400 million and be built over 20 to 30 years.

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