St. Mary’s County commissioners questioned state officials regarding lengthy timelines on road projects during an update on transportation priorities at a joint meeting Tuesday with the Maryland Department of Transportation.
Annually, MDOT presents a draft six-year capital program to every county and Baltimore city to update local officials and the public on the governor’s administration’s plans, which this year details MDOT’s $13.4 billion six-year capital budget. Above and beyond this funding, the Maryland Transportation Authority is investing another $2.8 billion in state toll roads and bridges.
MDOT representatives joined Tuesday’s meeting virtually in consideration of Maryland’s COVID-19 State of Emergency.
“We’re holding this meeting virtually for the first time this year,” Sean Powell, deputy secretary of MDOT, told commissioners, before revealing the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a $1.9 billion reduction in the capital budget. “Every transportation unit across the entire state, every department, took a hit.”
He said in St. Mary’s, cuts could translate into less road maintenance and unfunded repair roadwork.
Tim Smith, MDOT SHA administrator, explained how fewer vehicles on roadways earlier this year allowed crews to expand hours of lane closures and make more progress on construction projects without impacting the mobility of Maryland drivers. He said there are several examples in St. Mary’s of how MDOT SHA was able to deliver some great projects and new roadway infrastructure for Maryland, despite the pandemic.
Smith mentioned the agency has advanced a number of Route 5 projects, including the $14 million project at Abell and Moakley streets in Leonardtown. Safety improvements for this project include the addition of left-turn lanes and a sidewalk, anticipated to be complete by next summer.
The $24 million project on Route 5 north of Point Lookout State Park that includes the addition of shoulders and wider lanes is progressing, he said, adding ongoing work includes tree removal, clearing and grubbing. This project is expected to be complete by fall 2022.
The administrator also provided an update on the Route 6 Persimmon Creek bridge that was damaged during Tropical Storm Isaias in August. Since the bridge cannot be repaired, MDOT SHA has been working to expedite design for the replacement bridge. Surveys and data collection were recently completed, and engineers are working on design and permit approvals to begin construction next year.
“A year to fix a bridge?” Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) asked. “I don’t understand why it would take that long.”
“We’re having to go back and redesign that bridge. … We’re rebuilding it in 10 months, which is a third to a quarter of how long it would normally take us,” Smith replied.
Morgan also inquired about construction at Point Lookout Road.
“Progress seems to be moving at a glacial pace” with this project, he said. “Why is this project taking so long to complete?”
Smith told the commissioner “it wasn’t the typical construction/design project … We involved the contractor in the process itself. We were not fully done with the design when that project started.”
“We’re at a point where we are ready to start work,” Corren Johnson, MDOT SHA engineer, said.
Earlier in the meeting, Melissa Williams of the Maryland Transportation Authority, mentioned the new Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial/Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge over the Potomac River was advanced. MDTA will open the new, wider, four-lane crossing by early 2023. While this toll facility is now permanently cashless, like all of MDTA’s facilities, the new bridge project will remove the toll booths and provide highway-speed, all-electronic tolling.