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Tim Smith: State Highway Administration did key work in Howard County, rest of state during pandemic | COMMENTARY

As Maryland continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown, more motorists are returning to the roadways.

Even while the state was under a stay-at-home order and many people worked remotely, the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration continued its essential work improving and maintaining Maryland’s roads and bridges to provide a reliable highway system for our customers. We provided protective equipment, obtained sanitizer from local distilleries and did everything we could to keep our personnel and contractors safe.

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We are proud of the work these essential employees have done to keep the supply chain open so residents could receive the goods they need and essential workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis could get where they were needed.

Whether working remotely or in the field on state roadways, our essential employees never stopped striving to improve, maintain and patrol our roadways, and we’ve made great progress on a number of Howard County projects over the past few months.

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Significant headway was made on the second phase of our $127 million MD 32 widening project that stretches from Linden Church Road to Interstate 70, a span of 6.6 miles. The project will expand the highway from a two lanes to four, with shoulders and a median. Construction also includes a new Triadelphia Road bridge over MD 32 along with drainage improvements to remove pollutants from stormwater runoff to enhance the natural environment there. Fewer vehicles on the road meant more time to stay on target to complete the bridge work.

Crews completed work on U.S. 40 at Ridge Road to modify the existing intersection layout and resurface the roadway. All work was performed overnight on two consecutive nights in May, when stay-at-home orders were still in effect. This meant that fewer vehicles were impacted by the work and crews could work longer in the intersection without a lot of interruptions. To ease congestion along northbound Ridge Road between northbound U.S. 29 off-ramp and U.S. 40, crews added a fourth northbound lane. The double turn lane from westbound U.S. 40 to Ridge Road became a single lane and guide lines for the travel lanes were also marked through the intersection.

We completed work on the MD 32 Broken Land Parkway Park and Ride expansion. The construction required occasional closures inside the west lot, which reduced the number of available parking spots. However, with the COVID-19 travel restrictions, the park and ride had a much lower occupancy rate and closures due to construction did not impact a lot of people. This project addressed an important facility with an average daily occupancy rate of almost 90%. Forty new parking spaces were added, providing commuters a total of 382 spaces.

Across the state, our staff and contractors took advantage of the weeks of lighter traffic that allowed additional time on the roadway to pull construction work ahead of schedule, catch up on projects that were falling behind schedule, and work with minimal disruptions to the public.

As our state reopens and more people take to the roads, we ask motorists to remain alert and slow down for roadside operations. In July, we experienced the tragedy of a contractor being fatally struck in a work zone. This serves as a reminder to us all to make safe driving our highest priority.

I want to ensure Marylanders that more than ever, we are committed to moving forward to serve you. We are taking appropriate precautions to protect the health and safety of our customers, employees, and contractors. I am extremely proud of our team for working hard through these unforeseen challenges to keep our state and economy running.

Tim Smith is administrator of the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration.

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