Frederick County to ask state for $95 million to fix three major highways -- Gazette.Net


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Frederick County needs nearly $95 million to plan, design and construct three major road projects if it wants to reduce traffic congestion, although it is unlikely the county will see that money from the state anytime soon.

The Frederick Board of County Commissioners voted 4-0 Thursday to still send a letter to the Maryland Department of Transportation asking for the money, even though state officials have warned there is no funding available for new highway projects.

The three road projects are also the same three commissioners sent to the state last year. The county received no funding for the projects at that time.

“It’s been like this for sometime,” Commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young (R) said in an interview Friday. “But yes, I think it’s important to send the letter. If the gas tax goes through, we are telling [Gov. Martin O’Malley] we want some of the money to go to our residents that are paying the taxes. I’m not in favor of that [gas tax] action, but if it happens, our residents should be able to reap some of that.”

O’Malley (D) is proposing to restructure the way the gas tax is collected, and if passed by the Maryland General Assembly this legislative session, would raise $3.4 billion over the next five years for transportation projects. But already a portion of that is slated to go toward mass transit projects like Metro’s Purple Line.

It is unclear whether Frederick County will see any of that money.

In November, Jack Cahalan, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation, warned the Frederick Board of County Commissioners that Maryland has no money for new highway projects. Painting a bleak picture of the state’s transportation funding woes, Cahalan said it is unlikely the money will be available anytime soon.

Across Maryland, county governments and Baltimore city send an annual list of projects considered their top priorities for new roads, bridges and public transportation systems. To build everything sent by the counties and Baltimore city would have cost about $12 billion, state officials said.

The top priorities from the counties and Baltimore are reviewed by the governor and sent to the General Assembly for budget approval to get on the state transportation department’s Consolidated Transportation Program. Only a small portion across the state are funded each year, however.

Despite that, commissioners are sending a letter to the Maryland Department of Transportation identifying Frederick County’s three roads that need improvement.

The county’s top priority is the construction of a new $91.2 million interchange at U.S. 15 Monocacy Boulevard in Frederick.

Final design of the interchange is expected to be completed this year but because funding was unavailable for construction, there is no estimate as to when it will be done.

“This is unlikely to happen before I turn 50,” said Young, who is 41.

The future Monocacy Boulevard interchange has been a priority for the city of Frederick and the county for three years. Both jurisdictions have already contributed $1.3 million for design and engineering.

The interchange, which has yet to be built, will serve as an eastern bypass for the city of Frederick. It is intended to improve safety on U.S. 15. Currently, about 78,000 cars travel daily on U.S. 15, according to the Maryland State Highway Administration.

The county also is seeking between $500,000 to $600,000 toward the planning of a $30.9 million interchange at Interstate 70 and Meadow Road in Frederick. The county has already allocated $500,000 toward the planning.

The project would add a ramp from eastbound I-70 to Old National Pike and another from Old National Pike to westbound I-70.

The interchange is intended to improve traffic along Old National Pike, where some 14,000 vehicles travel daily.

Finally, the commissioners want $3.5 million to design the widening of Md. 85, known as Buckeystown Pike, south of Crestwood Boulevard to English Muffin Way in Frederick to a four-lane divided highway. The total cost of that project is anywhere between $15 million to $30 million.

Some 30,000 cars travel daily on Md. 85, according to the State Highway Administration.

Young said improvements to Md. 85 are a priority, because of the many businesses that line the road now and those planned for the future.

Young calls the area the “bread basket of Frederick County” because it is where most of the jobs are created. He said he knows of many developers in the area that are willing to contribute money to widen Md. 85.

Young said at Thursday’s meeting, that he would eventually like to move the project to No. 1, in place of the Monocacy Boulevard interchange, because he feels it has a better chance of getting funding. With a price tag as high as $91.2 million, Young said it is unlikely the Monocacy interchange will be built anytime soon.

“I believe in the philosophy of the list in terms of what is needed,” he said. “I’m fine with it. But at some point when does No. 3 become No. 1? There are so many folks [building on Md. 85] that are willing to chip in money, that at some point you want to try and make it a reality.”

There is little chance the county could fund the projects entirely without state help.

Finally, Ron Burns, the county’s traffic engineer, told commissioners he would eventually like to add improvements to Md. 75 in southern Frederick County, on the priority list, because of the potential traffic brought on by the 3,220 homes planned for that area.

Md. 75 is a two-lane highway that runs through New Market, Monrovia and Ijamsville, a majority of it without shoulders on either side.

Prior boards have included Md. 75 on the list, but the road has yet to receive state funding.

“We need to advance Md. 75,” Burns said. “It was in project planning many years ago and it came out not to build anything. We feel it’s important with all the development. Seventy-five is not a forgiving road. We need to start communicating that with the state.”

sgreenfield@gazette.net