Some Cecil County residents are concerned an additional Interstate 95 interchange between Perryville and North East could bring greater traffic headaches to their neighborhood, while other residents and county leaders say it would help economic development and alleviate traffic congestion on area highways.
“This is essential to Cecil County’s continued economic growth,” Chris Moyer, director of the county’s office of economic development, said.
Moyer, along with other county government leaders, was among at least 76 people who attended an open house on the project, hosted by the Maryland Transportation Authority, in the Technology Center at Cecil College Tuesday evening.
The MdTA is working with the Federal Highway Administration as it studies the potential to make improvements to infrastructure, such as I-95 and Belvidere Road, that would support the growth of the county’s Principio Enterprise Zone, according to the MdTA website.
The agency is seeking public input as it conducts a study under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, to review the existing environmental, economic, cultural and historical resources in the study area and the feasibility of improvements to I-95, local roads such as the north-south Belvidere Road and state highways such as Route 222 and Route 272.
The study area covers 7.6 miles of I-95 between its interchange with Route 222 north of Perryville and Route 272 near North East. It also encompasses the growing Principio Business Park at Belvidere and Route 40, York Building Products’ Mason-Dixon sand and gravel quarries and undeveloped or lightly-developed land between Route 40 and I-95 and north and south of the two highways.
About 1,200 acres of the Principio Business Park is in use, Moyer said. Industrial and retail tenants occupy about 2.6 million square feet of space, and another 14 million square feet is projected to be developed in the next 10 to 15 years, according to Moyer.
Some of the tenants include Amazon, General Electric and Restoration Hardware, which operate massive distribution centers. Amazon’s Cecil County fulfillment center, its third facility in Maryland, opened last September and employs more than 1,000 people. Gov. Larry Hogan and U.S. Rep. Andy Harris took a guided tour of the facility in March.
Medline Industries, which plans to relocate its area distribution operation from the Aberdeen-Havre de Grace area in Harford County, expects to move into its new facility in Principio by the end of 2019, according to a Medline spokesperson.
Construction has been completed on another distribution center operated by the Germany-based grocery chain Lidl, according to Moyer.
“They’re still on target to meet the hiring targets that were established when the county and the state made an incentive officer back in 2016,” Moyer said.
He and Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy are scheduled to meet with company leaders in September and will “offer any assistance we can to help” Lidl meet its hiring target of about 80 employees, Moyer said.
Moyer said the Principio Business Park will be “the largest industrial job creator in the Mid-Atlantic” when it is fully built out.
“That’s only if this interchange occurs,” he said. “We need that front door on I-95.”
Resident Darrin Pritchard, who lives on Linton Run Road north of I-95 near the study area, expressed multiple concerns about increased truck traffic on the two-lane Belvidere Road, as well as how improvements to surrounding infrastructure — such as the Belvidere Road overpass crossing CSX train tracks north of Route 40 — would be funded should the interchange be built.
Pritchard suggested the corporate entities who want to set up operations in Cecil County contribute to road maintenance.
“A lot of taxpayers aren’t asking for this,” he said. “It’s the corporations [that] are wanting to come to Cecil County.
Pritchard, 45, has lived in Cecil County all of his life and on Linton Run Road for about 10 years. He said he is already seeing more truck traffic on Belvidere, in addition to the vehicles serving the sand and gravel quarries.
Chesapeake City resident Nick Blendy, 67, said a new interchange would help alleviate highway congestion. He drives up Route 272 to get to I-95 when traveling to Baltimore to visit his son or take in a Baltimore Orioles game.
“The trucks and congestion on there are just getting worse every day, so I think an interchange at the proposed area would help alleviate congestion along [Route] 272,” he said.
The development in Principio Business Park has “just increased the traffic that much worse on Route 40, especially trucks,” Blendy said.
The MdTA will host another public information session this fall, and the final NEPA document should be ready by early 2019, agency spokesperson John Sales said.
The materials from Tuesday’s meeting, along with a short video, should be on the MdTA website, according to Sales. People can give their comments online, and he pointed out visitors who were filling out comment cards at the meeting.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Sales said. “We have a lot of people putting their comments on paper because that’s an important part of the NEPA study.”