The State Highway Administration has designed four possible improvements for the intersection of U.S. 40 (Pulaski Highway) and Route 715, the gateway to Aberdeen Proving Ground, and it wants the public to help make a decision on the project.
At a workshop Tuesday in Aberdeen, highway administration officials showed the plans and sought comment from nearly 100 residents, business owners and town officials who were at Bakerfield Elementary School.
"I am still trying to digest all the information," said Aberdeen Councilwoman Ruth Ann Young. "I have asked that copies of the designs be sent to the town hall."
Construction could affect as many as 18 properties along the heavily commercial strip of U.S. 40. Preliminary studies have identified the potential impact on streams, but environmental research will be needed to determine the effects on wetlands.
Many property owners questioned how a new intersection would affect access to their businesses and whether the project would mean a loss of property for them.
The options range in cost from an estimated $34 million to $48.8 million, and the SHA has not decided on its preference. The project, which Harford County has made one of its top priorities, has yet to receive construction funding.
"With funding, we could start construction in about three years," said Stephen M. Ches, transportation engineer manager and project manager. "First, there will be design and environmental studies. It will take two to three years to build."
The highway administration mailed about 13,000 fliers last month, hoping to generate interest in the project. Options include two loop ramps from U.S. 40, a cloverleaf and additional lanes.
"Our decision depends on comments from these workshops," said Eric Marabello, chief of the agency's highway-design division.
Officials will allow 30 more days for comment by mail, telephone or e-mail.
"We are getting very general questions about how this will improve the area and how will commuters get from one point to another," said Frances M. Ward, the highway administration's community liaison. "This will be an increasingly popular destination with the expansion of the base. We are trying to anticipate what is coming."
The proving ground is expected to gain about 10,000 jobs in the next four years as a result of the nationwide military base expansion known as BRAC.
"BRAC traffic increases are already projected for this intersection," Ches said. "BRAC planners are working with us on projected numbers."
Many at the workshop asked whether there were plans to extend Route 715 to Interstate 95.
"We are not pursuing any extension of 715 north," Ches said.
However, Aberdeen Mayor Michael Bennett said he has seen such an extension on several BRAC-related plans.
"It will have to be done sometime," Bennett said.
Hattie Ridgel of Belcamp said she went to the workshop "to get and give input."
She said she would favor any option that included traffic signals and east-west directional signs.
"This is really a transient area, and not everyone knows the roads," she said. "The signals will help with truck traffic. The directional signs will help travelers, especially all those coming to the base who don't know this area."
Fred Silva travels through the intersection on his daily commute from Perryman to his job at the proving ground.
"They need to really think about this before they start building and do it right," he said. "In the long run, it will be less expensive to choose the best solution, even if it is the most costly."
Several residents complained about the dangers of trucks making U-turns along the highway to reach the industrial park. A new intersection would curtail those turns.
Seeing the designs and sharing information with SHA administrators about the city's major arteries was beneficial, Bennett said.
"Those of us who live here know how traffic was and is, and how this project will affect where people will go," he said.
Comments are invaluable, "especially if they tell us why," said Barb Solberg, assistant chief of the highway design division. "We don't know everything about an area. We are trying to gather information."
Information: 410-545-8835 or 888-228-5003. The designs will be available soon at www. marylandroads.com, where there is room for comment.