Road projects may be late

The Baltimore Sun

Large-scale road projects slated to handle a jobs explosion around Fort Meade aren't expected to be finished before 2015 -- four years after thousands of workers arrive to the Army post, according to a draft outlook for the Baltimore region's transportation needs.

One of the most closely watched projects, the proposed widening of Route 3 through Crofton and Gambrills is expected to wrap up in 2030, more than a half-century after the first calls to overhaul the state highway.

The report by the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board, which was unveiled Wednesday night at a public forum in Parole, calls for spending $8.7 billion through 2035 to expand highways and mass transit across the region.

In all, the board has proposed $33.4 billion in transportation expenditures between 2013 and 2035, with about three-quarters going to road maintenance and operating buses and trains.

The outlook, which is being reviewed on a four-year cycle, is used to place regionally supported transportation projects in Anne Arundel, Howard, Carroll, Baltimore and Harford counties and Baltimore City in the pipeline for federal funding.

Harvey Gold, a planner for Anne Arundel County who serves as a representative for the transportation board, called the outlook a "fiscally constrained plan" based on the best estimate of what transportation funds will be available.

The draft plan lays out 11 highway projects in the county, including widening Interstate 97 to six lanes between Route 32 and U.S. 50; and two widenings along Route 2: between Route 10 and U.S. 50 and between Route 450 and north of the South River Bridge.

Among six "regionally significant" projects offered by the board, one is in Anne Arundel: adding two lanes on U.S. 50 from Interstate 97 to the Bay Bridge.

None of the county's projects is expected to be finished before 2015.

Regina Aris, manager of policy and plan development for the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, said yesterday that environmental factors and community input weigh heavily in how quickly large projects can be finished, such as reconstructing a five-mile stretch of Route 175 or a nine-mile section of Route 3.

Aris said the timetable for completing Route 175 and Route 3 is realistic because improvements "will be done in increments" over many years.

But civic and business leaders say that timetable is untenable as western Anne Arundel braces for a crush of jobs that will come over the next four years because of the base realignment and closure process, known as BRAC.

"Anything we can do to expedite road building in this area will be critical," Claire Louder, executive director of the West County Chamber of Commerce, said yesterday. "We are talking about a significant increase in traffic with 22,000 workers coming to the area no later than 2011."

Pushing back those projects "is just not realistic, given the impact we are going to see," she added. "The gridlock will be phenomenal."

At Wednesday's meeting, several residents and civic leaders offered other complaints about the absence of rail proposals, especially to Annapolis. They said the expansion projects were too heavily weighted toward roads.

Gold noted that a previous proposal to bring light rail from Glen Burnie down Route 2 to Annapolis met heavy opposition in North County.

Another board representative, Annapolis Planning Director Jon L. Arason, said that while thousands of people will move to Anne Arundel County over the next two decades, the suburban county is not densely populated enough to command the money for rail projects.

Anne Arundel's population hovers around 510,000, and the transportation board estimates that the county will take in an additional 68,000 residents by 2035. The only way to change the equation, they note, is for municipalities to build apartments and condominiums at densities that exceed the limits that most municipalities allow.

"It has to be solved with density we don't want," said Albert Johnston, a community activist in Severna Park.

Wednesday's meeting was the second of eight across the Baltimore area that will continue through next month, capped by a hearing Aug. 28 in Baltimore where elected leaders, including County Executive John R. Leopold, are expected to hear public testimony on Transportation Outlook 2035. The board will vote on the plan Oct. 23.phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

Comments on the draft Transportation Outlook 2035 can be e-mailed to mhaines@ baltometro.org or faxed to 410-732-8248 or sent in writing to the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board, 2700 Lighthouse Point East, Suite 310, Baltimore 21224.

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