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Budget tighter, but Md. roads projects on track

Strategies for coping with decreased revenue among topics discussed

Strategies for coping with decreased revenue among topics discussed

October 01, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

o Residents seek upgrade to U.S. 340 intersection

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Plans for improving and possibly widening Interstate 81, progress on work at the intersection of Dual Highway and Edgewood Drive, and strategies for coping with decreased revenue were among the topics discussed Thursday morning when officials from the Maryland Department of Transportation visited Washington County to meet with local leaders.

About 25 people, including state senators and delegates, Washington County commissioners, a Hagerstown City Council member, county and city staff members, and a handful of South County residents attended the meeting at the County Administration Building in Hagerstown.

Department of Transportation officials included transportation secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley, a former Hagerstown resident who was sworn in as the head of the department Sept. 1, as well as leaders of the department's highway, transit and aviation arms.

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One of the biggest state highway projects under way in Washington County is the addition of extra turn lanes and other improvements to the intersection of Dual Highway and Edgewood Drive, State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen said. That project is on schedule and should be finished by fall 2010, he said.

Another major project on the horizon is a reconstruction of Interstate 81 from the West Virginia state line to the Pennsylvania state line, Pedersen said. The state is studying the possibility of widening I-81 within the existing median to create a third lane in each direction, as well as improving several of its interchanges, he said.

That project has been in the planning phases for several years and due to its high cost -- likely $700 million or more -- it probably will be completed in stages over the course of many years, Pedersen said.

Right now, the state's highest priority on I-81 is the Potomac River bridge, Pedersen said. State engineers are concerned about the deck, or road surface, of the bridge, he said.

Decreased car sales are continuing to cut into Maryland's titling tax revenue, which is one of the main sources of Transportation Department revenue, Swaim-Staley said. Titling tax is collected on new and used car sales, and on vehicles of new residents.

The department has tried to preserve its planned capital projects, cutting instead from its operating program with furloughs and cutbacks in maintenance, fuel and utilities, Swaim-Staley said.

Pedersen said the state would be reducing or delaying work such as mowing, litter pickup, sweeping, lane striping, tree cutting, light replacement, sign maintenance and drainage maintenance.

A bright spot has been the state's receipt of funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the federal stimulus package, which has allowed the state to move forward with scheduled resurfacing and safety projects that might otherwise have been cut, Swaim-Staley said.

The state is moving forward aggressively on those projects, she said.

"While you might be reading around the country that there are issues with the stimulus, and the jobs are not being created and work is not getting on the street, that has certainly not been the experience here in Maryland, because we have advertised over 75 percent of the projects" Swaim-Staley said. "Most of that work is either on the street now or you will be seeing that work in the coming months."

Construction has begun on one stimulus-funded project in Washington County, a sight-distance improvement to the intersection of Md. 65 (Sharpsburg Pike) and Md. 63, which should be finished this year, said Anthony F. Crawford, district engineer for Western Maryland.

Resurfacing work on part of U.S. 40 east of Hagerstown should be completed this fall, Crawford said.

State transportation officials said they would look into issues raised by city and county officials, including the timing of traffic signals on U.S. 40 in Hagerstown and the impact that railroad projects will have on the county's at-grade crossings.

Washington County transportation projects



Ongoing and upcoming State Highway Administration projects:

o Improvements to the intersection of U.S. 40 (Dual Highway) and Edgewood Drive in Hagerstown, $6 million state, county and city project, construction has started and should be completed by fall 2010

o Improvements to the intersection of Md. 65 (Sharpsburg Pike) and Md. 63 to correct a sight distance issue for traffic coming off Md. 65, $694,000 stimulus project, construction just started and project should be finished this year

o Construction of acceleration and deceleration lanes at an existing median emergency crossover on I-70 east of the Md. 56 (Big Pool) exit, $860,000 project, construction has started and project should be finished this year

o Resurfacing U.S. 40 (National Pike) between Md. 66 and I-70, east of Hagerstown, $1 million stimulus project, starting this month and should be finished this fall

o Resurfacing Md. 58 (Cearfoss Pike) between Md. 63 and dual section west of I-81, west of Hagerstown, $546,000 stimulus project

o Replacing the deck, or road surface, of the Md. 63 (Spielman Road) bridge over CSX railroad tracks, south of Williamsport, $2.3 million project scheduled for spring and summer 2011

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