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Maryland’s secretary of transportation saw firsthand the need for improvements at the intersection of routes 4 and 235 in California as he witnessed a traffic accident Monday morning during a ceremony to mark the beginning of a project to widen the roadway leading to the Gov. Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge.

Transportation Secretary James T. Smith Jr., along with state and county officials, was on hand to announce the start of construction that will add a second northbound lane along the section of Route 4 from the intersection to just the light at before Patuxent Boulevard.

Del. John Bohanan’s remarks to reporters and other state workers was interrupted by the two-car collision, to which state highway workers at the scene rushed to help. Four people were transported to MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital in stable condition, according to a volunteer rescue department chief.

Later Monday morning the state and county officials traveled just south on Route 4 to activate the new traffic signal at Wildewood Parkway before touring the intersection of Great Mills Road and Route 5, which is considered another traffic bottleneck in the county.

The work along Route 4 will eventually tie in to a replacement bridge to cross the Patuxent River, Lee Starkloff, SHA district engineer, said. The work due to begin next month is intended to alleviate afternoon rush-hour traffic backups as employees leave Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

The new span across the river is now estimated to cost $571 million, including $10 million in planning and $41 million in design.

“It’s probably going to be more than $571 million,” Smith said, adding that work will need to be broken down into phases to make the price tag more palatable.

At one point, the bridge project was estimated at $750 million to $800 million, but the scope of work has been reconfigured, according to an SHA spokesperson. The intersection of routes 4 and 235 will no longer include a flyover ramp.

Meanwhile, the work that is about to begin to widen Route 4 from Route 235 toward the bridge will cost $3.7 million. That work will begin in about two weeks and continue until next spring, according to the SHA spokesperson. There could be some partial road closures during the work.

Smith gave credit to Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s) for helping to secure money for both the Route 4 widening project and the Wildewood light, which is a couple of blocks from Bohanan’s home.

Bohanan called it the “most needed light in St. Mary’s County.” The light cost about $146,000, paid for by both state and county governments.

“Traffic is a two-way street, as they say. So is safety,” Smith said, adding that nearly 17,500 vehicles travel through the intersection every day.

Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s) said he, too, supports the safety improvements along Southern Maryland roads, and thanked taxpayers for supporting and paying for the projects.

Great Mills intersection improvements pushed

The state highway officials toured the intersection of Great Mills Road and Route 5, which is the site of a daily workday bottleneck in the late afternoon as employees from Pax River’s main base in Lexington Park heading south join vehicles heading north from the Navy’s Webster Field in St. Inigoes.

Traffic backs up for miles in either direction as cars try to make their way north on Route 5 through a single lane, John Blazer, who owns an office near the intersection, said.

“It’s just so overloaded,” he said.

Starkloff said there is no timeline established for the intersection improvements yet. Project costs and other details will come after the highway administration finishes up a study of the intersection this summer.

There is $5 million budgeted to complete the planning for the Great Mills intersection improvements.

“The big problem is the bridge only has so much capacity,” Bohanan said of the small, two-lane bridge that crosses over St. Mary’s River on Route 5 just north of the intersection.

Key to the improvements will be adding a second travel lane in each direction across a new bridge, Starkloff said.

South of Great Mills the State Highway administration plans to replace another bridge. Construction on the 13-foot bridge span along Route 5 near Willows Road is scheduled to start this fall and will cost $5.7 million. Vehicles will still be able to use the bridge while work is underway, Starkloff said.

Smith said that spending taxpayers dollars on road improvements is relatively easy for citizens to support because “you do see what you get for your money.”

jyeatman@somdnews.com