Leonardtown, MD — It’s called the annual “road show” and this year there was a new driver. Each year the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDIOT) secretary and staff visit each of the state’s counties to present their six-year plan and local projects to county officials and legislators. This year Gov. Larry Hogan’s newly appointed MDOT Secretary Pete Rahn (shown) lead the entourage in their visit Oct. 20 to Calvert and St. Mary’s counties.

As could be expected, the Gov. Thomas Johnson Bridge, the area’s number one transportation priority, was at the top of the list of subjects discussed in each county. Rahn said in St. Mary’s, “The bridge is funded through design. We do not have it funded through construction.” He said that the completion of the design was an important step. “We know it’s important. We know it has an impact. We know its impacts to BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure).” That’s a reference to transportation being a key factor in protecting Pax River from future closure actions.

Delegate Tony O’Donnell [R – 29-C] told the secretary it’s not just a local issue. “The TJ Bridge is important to the state and important nationally,” noting the three major facilities whose workers use the bridge: Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Dominion Cove Point LNG Plant and Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant.

Commissioner Mike Hewitt [R – 2nd District] chaired the meeting with the secretary in the absence of President Randy Guy and Vice President Tom Jarboe, who both were on their way to Huntsville, AL on a fact-finding mission. The county’s four legislators, Senator Steve Waugn and delegates O’Donnell, Matt Morgan and Deb Rey also attended the meeting.

Hewitt told Rahn that the county would like know which of the three phases of the bridge project would be first–the bridge, the Route 4 dualized access road or intersection improvements to Routes 4/235.

O’Donnell also pressed the secretary for resolution of an alternate access point for the residents of Woodland Acres, which is being impacted by the Route 4 lane widening project near completion of from Route 235 to Patuxent Boulevard. That project is seen as a temporary relief for the clogged 4/235 intersection at rush hour.

State Highway Administration District 5 Director Tim Smith said the money has been allocated for construction of an alternate access for Woodland Acres but has not yet been funded and a public hearing is scheduled next month. O’Donnell said that was unacceptable to him.

Rahn said that two priority projects of the commissioners are in the design phase and are scheduled for construction beginning in Fiscal Year 2019: the Route 5 breakout project from the hospital entrance to Clark’s Rest and the improvements to Route 5 in south county.

Leonardtown Mayor Dan Burris and Councilwoman Leslie Roberts were seated with the commissioners and legislators during the meeting. Burris noted the large number of accidents at the Moakley/Abell streets and Route 5 intersection. The breakout project will include a median and shoulders along that short stretch of what will eventually be a project from Route 245 to Route 243.

The town officials also pressed for a traffic light at the entrance to Leonard’s Grant and the new Captain Walter Francis Duke Elementary School. Roberts said if a full light wasn’t warranted, perhaps one that just operated during school hours would be an alternative.

Another critical road project is the Route 5/Great Mills Road intersection in Great Mills that reaches gridlock during base rush hour. The attendees were told by State Highway Administration Planning Director Greg Slater that the project is coming in relatively inexpensive — $20 million.

There are no construction monies programmed for the project in the six-year plan. Slater said his department will have a better handle on the scope of the project sometime next year.

Other projects not in the state plan that were mentioned by the commissioners and legislators during the meeting included:
• Route 235 at Buck Hewitt Road – either a full light or at a minimum lowering the median so it is safer for Lexington Park Volunteer Rescue Squad vehicles to cross.
• Crossover at Base Gate 1 for the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum
• Better lane markings, particularly at the 235/245 and 235/Great Mills Road intersections.

One project not in St. Mary’s County but affecting local travelers is the Gov. Harry Nice Bridge over the Potomac River in Charles County. Del. Matt Morgan [R – 29A] asked the status of the replacement bridge project. Rahn said that was one project that could not be accomplished without a toll increase for state roads and bridges. Gov. Hogan recently reduced tolls for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Rahn said the six-year plan includes an ambitious funding of $15.5 million, but the identified state needs are five times that amount. That does not include $1.5 million in the plans for the Maryland Transportation Authority, which is a separate agency.

Rahn said Gov. Hogan has insisted that all of the disparate parts of MDOT operate as one unit. He also said that the governor in every cabinet meeting impresses on state agency heads the message – “Maryland is open for business.” He said it’s not just a slogan, but state agencies have been ordered to act in a business-friendly way.

“MDOT and your goals are the same,” Rahn told the officials in attendance. Those goals include relieving congestion, reducing commuter trips, and improving safety and reliability. He said those goals were incorporated into the six-year plan.

Contact Dick Myers at dick.myers@thebaynet.com