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New 'intermodal corridor' paving the way for high-tech business park

Road network also expected to ease congestion on Eastern Boulevard, Robinwood Drive

June 30, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
By Chad Trovinger/Graphic Designer

With an estimated construction cost of nearly $30 million, a network of roads that eventually will connect Eastern Boulevard North to Robinwood Drive is viewed by Washington County officials as a remedy to growing congestion on two major Hagerstown corridors.

It’s also the hope of county and local development officials that the infrastructure will pave the way for a proposed high-tech business park east of Hagerstown that could boost tax revenue and create thousands of local jobs over the next two decades.

“This is the wave of the future for Washington County and all of Western Maryland,” said Ron Bowers, vice chairman of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

According to county plans, the two main arterial roads — Yale Drive and Professional Court — will be extended to intersect at a roundabout near the middle of the former Mount Aetna Farms property, now owned by the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, known as CHIEF.

County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said the Yale Drive/Professional Court concept has two facets — it will reduce traffic at two major Dual Highway intersections and increase the county’s taxable base into the future.

“The improvements for the corridor have been a long time coming,” Murray said. “It’s been planned in the (capital improvement plan) for a long time, and these enhancements ... were facilitated by (CHIEF) who was willing to give free easement and contribute to the total cost of that project.”

With about 125 developable acres, the farmland envisioned to become the Mount Aetna Technology Park is in close proximity to Meritus Medical Center and Hagerstown Community College, both growing institutions that could directly benefit from high-tech industries locating nearby.

“It’s something that has been thought about since Eastern Boulevard went in and Professional Court was built,” Bowers said.

CHIEF President Gregory I. Snook, who also serves on Meritus and HCC volunteer boards, said there will “definitely” be a demand for high-tech businesses in the future.

“That’s going to be enough (land for) development over the next 10 to 15 years, unless we get some type of big biotech or cybersecurity type of business,” he said. “But that’s what we want. We want to get those kinds of 21st century-type of jobs in this community.”

Snook said diversification of employment in Washington County is critical because relying on one type of employment, such as warehousing or manufacturing, can have a big impact on the overall community in the event of an economic downturn such as the one faced in recent years.

“By diversifying, you eliminate a lot of that,” he said. “You still have downturns, but it doesn’t affect the community as a whole in the big picture.”


Construction costs

Robert Slocum, the county’s deputy director of public works, said the county plans to spend about $9.6 million on construction to extend Yale Drive east to HCC, with the stretch serving as a much-needed secondary access point to the college.

About $450,000 worth of engineering for Yale Drive has been put up by CHIEF, which also is fully funding the development of utilities, stormwater management and other infrastructure along the route, Snook said.

“We will be paying for all the infrastructure — for the water, the sewer, the electric, the cable, stormwater, all that kind of stuff,” he said. “Yes ... the county is putting a road through it, but it is not just to serve our business park. It’s to serve the back of the college, which was really one of the big priorities at the beginning.”

Slocum said engineering for Yale Drive is about 90 percent complete and the project likely will go out to bid in September. The estimated completion date for Yale Drive extended is summer 2015, he said.

A federal grant worth nearly $1 million recently was secured for the Yale Drive project, allowing the county to add a 700-foot section of road to be built to the north of the planned roundabout to which Professional Drive, as it would be renamed, eventually will connect. The county is providing the local match to the grant.

As it currently exists, Yale Drive runs between Mount Aetna and Medical Campus roads, the latter of which is the primary access route to Meritus Medical Center. Yale Drive also serves as the primary access point for Eastern Elementary and Ruth Ann Monroe Primary schools.

Plans call for Professional Court, built off Eastern Boulevard North within Hagerstown city limits, to be extended east about two-thirds of a mile with a bridge built over Antietam Creek in two phases, ultimately reaching the 700-foot segment extending off the roundabout to reach Yale Drive.

Expected to cost about $16.5 million with bridge construction, Professional Drive eventually will become a major four-lane thoroughfare from Eastern Boulevard to Robinwood Drive, county officials said.

The majority of funding for that extension is budgeted for the 2020 through 2022 budget years, according to the county’s Capital Improvement Plan. Various federal and state funding options still are being explored to help pay for the bridge construction.

Not in the county’s budget, an additional $3 million cost for CHIEF is estimated for connecting the roundabout to Varsity Lane, which would complete what Murray called a new “intermodal corridor” between Eastern Boulevard and Robinwood Drive.

Once completed, the road network would reflect an overall investment of $29.1 million. Add in the $7.8 million for the upcoming improvements on Robinwood Drive, and that figure reaches $36.9 million.

However, the project costs are being offset by about $10.5 million in state, federal and private contributions, according to numbers provided by Slocum in a report to the Greater Hagerstown Committee.

Starting this summer, Robinwood Drive will be widened between Meritus and HCC. Another $1.5 million was spent on engineering as well as right-of-way and easement acquisitions for that project, which included 31 different property owners, Slocum said.

To date, the county has secured a little more than $2.8 million in grant funding through the Appalachian Regional Commission for the extensions of Yale and Professional drives, Murray said.

An application has been made for an additional $1 million in ARC money to help fund further phases of the Professional Drive extension toward Antietam Creek.

Other contributions include the $3 million for Varsity Lane improvements, $2.2 million in right-of-way acquisitions, $1.1 million in state aid and CHIEF’s $450,000 for engineering, Slocum’s report showed.


Varsity Lane

The final aspect of the planned road network, Varsity Lane currently intersects with Robinwood Drive and serves as the main road into a planned residential development being undertaken by Rosewood Investments LLC.

About 1,300 feet of Varsity Lane already has been built by developer Manny Shaool. An additional 1,700 feet of the road will be needed to reach Yale Drive and the roundabout, being built through a portion of CHIEF’s property, Slocum said.

CHIEF is responsible for connecting the county-built roundabout to Varsity Lane, but Snook said he did not have a timetable as to when it would be built. He said it depends largely on how the business park and adjacent residential development proceeds.

“That could be a long ways away because that’s probably the farthest point away in the development of the park,” he said.

Bowers, however, said he feels there needs to be a definite plan in place to connect Professional Drive to Varsity Lane to maximize the overall benefit of the project.

“I’m totally for the development. I think the new outline is great,” he said. “I think now, we need to work with Shaool, the existing developer, to open Varsity. That really maximizes the use for the college and an exit off of Yale Drive. I think we’re totally on the right track, but we’ve got a ways to go to shore up proper planning for an area that’s poised right now for tremendous growth.”

The Rosewood development was started about seven or eight years ago, but the economy’s negative effect on the housing market has slowed its buildout, according to Slocum, who expects that the Varsity Lane connection could be completed about the same time as the Antietam Creek bridge construction between 2020 and 2022.

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