State cancels bid process to redevelop travel plazas

The Maryland Transportation Authority has canceled the bidding for a contract to redevelop and manage its two travel plazas along the toll stretch of Interstate 95 in northeast Maryland, deciding to go back to the drawing board rather than continue with a solicitation it had to revise repeatedly.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley said the state is committed a public-private partnership to redevelop the aging Maryland House and Chesapeake House on the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway. She said the authority's abrupt cancellation of its request for proposals Monday was prompted by a desire to start over and get it right.

"We want these public-private partnerships to be as sound as they can be," said Swaim-Staley, who chairs the authority's board. "We certainly try to get the RFPs right the first time, but these new public-private partnerships are a new area for all states."

She said she hopes the authority can release a new bid solicitation early next year.

The plan to seek a private vendor to pay the costs of development in return for a long-term agreement to manage the businesses at the plaza goes back more than four years, when it was announced by the Ehrlich administration. The O'Malley administration issues a bid solicitation earlier this year but has made repeated revisions and pushed back the bid deadline several times. Until the cancellation, the due date bids had been Nov. 15.

The redevelopment is in the authority's plans in Maryland's draft six-year transportation program released in September. According to the transportation program, the state has spent $3.5 million on planning and engineering for the project through the fiscal year that ended June 30. The authority was expected to spend $1.3 million more this year and lesser amounts over the next three years. Swaim-Staley said that money has been spent productively.

The neo-Georgian Maryland House opened in Harford County at the same time the toll road began operations in 1963. The more utilitarian Chesapeake House opened in Cecil County in 1975. According to the authority, the plazas have aged to the point where they must be redeveloped to meet the expected demand over the next 30 years.