Aberdeen fire officials cast wary eye at road work near firehouse

While a number of homes in its neighborhood have been demolished to make way for intersection improvements along Route 22, Aberdeen's No. 3 firehouse has been relatively unscathed.

That doesn't mean, however, Aberdeen Volunteer Fire Department officials aren't worried about the changes coming to the intersection of Route 22 (Aberdeen Thruway) and Paradise Road, one of three being widened in an effort to ease traffic congestion between I-95 and the main employer and contractor gate at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"On behalf of the fire department, our concern is this: The safety of department personnel as it relates to them functioning in that facility, and basically ensure that we have the appreciate access, ingress and egress, to and from that station," Ed Budnick, president of the fire department, said Wednesday.

The Maryland State Highway Administration has spent the better part of three years acquiring rights-of-way for the project which also has involved displacing 18 families, whose homes are being razed.

The demolitions began last spring, but it has been a slow process. In addition to the intersection at Paradise Road near the firehouse, widening and other improvements are planned at Beards Hill and Old Post roads; however, most of the homes being torn down are around the Paradise intersection.

The demolitions have been on hold in recent weeks but are expected to pick up once the frigid weather breaks.

"We'll resume that when the weather improves," the SHA's Kellie Boulware said Tuesday.

Throughout the right-of-way acquisition and demolition phase, SHA engineers never gave any public indication the firehouse property had been considered for taking.

Wooden stakes can be seen along Route 22, showing where improvements would be made, including the road frontage by the firehouse.

There has been a firehouse on the property since the late 1950s. The original building was substantially rebuilt and expanded in 2010, around the time the SHA was in the early stages of planning for the intersection improvements.

Budnick, who took over as the fire department's president earlier this month, said department leaders have been following the progress of the intersection project.

They retained a lawyer in recent months "strictly to ensure we are flowing the appropriate process and have the appropriate understanding of that process," Budnick explained of the organization's desire to be in close communication with the SHA.

Boulware said via email Wednesday that SHA is not seeking relocation of the firehouse.

She said earlier that fire officials had "additional questions regarding intersection design and access," but said she could not comment further because the fire department is "represented by counsel."

The planned intersection improvements include additional turn lanes, improvements to existing turn lanes, new through lanes, new and extended sidewalks, new curbs and gutters and improvements to each of the three traffic lights, according to SHA.

The project is designed to improve the flow of traffic heading to and from APG and is an outgrowth of base realignment, or BRAC, that has brought thousands of government and contractor jobs to the post.

The SHA has projected the cost at $7 million to $10 million per intersection, which the work to be completed by 2017.

The No. 3 firehouse was built during the late 1950s to improve fire service to the western part of the city, as well as Aberdeen Proving Ground, according to a history posted on the fire department's website. The original one-story, brick building had two vehicle bays.

The present two-story building was dedicated in October 2010, and has "all the amenities of a modern fire station," Budnick said. He noted it can also "hold and support multiple pieces of equipment."

"The main focus of our department is just to ensure that we can maintain that facility safely and operationally. . . . That's our intention, to work with the organizations involved in this process at whatever level necessary to ensure that it's a viable project for everybody involved," Budnick said.

Actual construction around the intersection is slated to begin this spring, once all the houses have been razed.

Boulware said 12 of the 18 have been taken down so far.

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