Calvert-St. Mary's Metropolitan Planning Organization council meets

Before the Calvert-St. Mary’s Metropolitan Planning Organization council meeting starts Wednesday morning, David Schlie of Maryland State Highway Administration, left, reviews a meeting agenda, while St. Mary’s Public Works and Transportation director John Deatrick, center, chats with Margaret Oliver, MPO planner at the St. Mary’s County Department of Land Use and Growth Management at the University System of Maryland at Southern Maryland.

St. Mary’s is seeking millions from a federal grant program that would reconfigure the Great Mills Road and Route 5 intersection, and may have the political will to do so.

The Calvert-St. Mary’s Metropolitan Planning Organization voted Wednesday to send a letter of support for the project’s application to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development, or BUILD, transportation grant program.

“Some of the high priority transportation projects for St. Mary’s have obviously been the Gov. Thomas Johnson Bridge and the Great Mills intersection,” St. Mary’s Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said Wednesday.

In its annual letter to the Maryland Department of Transportation, St. Mary’s commissioners reorganized the county’s transportation priorities, putting the Great Mills and Route 5 intersection at No. 1, a suggestion made by Del. Brian Crosby (D-St. Mary’s), who has said fixing the intersection is his biggest initiative in his freshman term.

“I figure after listening to [Pete Rahn, MDOT secretary] three times saying, ‘You’re not gonna get the bridge,’ I believe him,” Morgan said.

The county is applying for the federal grant to fund half of the $31.8 million project at the Great Mills intersection, which experiences heavy bottlenecks regularly during weekday afternoons and evenings.

The U.S. transportation department is offering $500 million for road, rail, transit and port projects in its discretionary program for various projects across the country. The St. Mary’s project is the only proposal for which Maryland is seeking BUILD funding.

“Part of the reason why this is the only application we’re putting in for the BUILD grant is the BUILD grant is only eligible for certain population type areas,” Tyson Byrne, regional planning manager at MDOT, said. The intersection fits the program’s definition of a rural location.

“There’s no other projects fighting for this money in the state of Maryland. We’re going toward this one project,” Byrne said. “We support it, we’re behind it and we’d like to move forward.”

If the funding were awarded, the state would provide a 50% match, according to MDOT. That money would widen Route 5 to an undivided four-lane section of roadway, and would add 11-foot-wide outside travel lanes, with 5-foot bicycle lanes along both sides of Route 5. The bridge over St. Mary’s River, which is “in fair condition but approaching poor,” according to a state transportation report, would also be replaced.

The intersection, which is approaching failing conditions, will be reconfigured to prevent right turns from Old Great Mills Road onto Route 5.

Last month, Crosby, Sen. Jack Bailey (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert), Rahn, Morgan and Naval Air Station Patuxent River representatives, including its new commanding officer, Capt. Christopher Cox, met to discuss plans for the intersection, Morgan said.

“We have significant buy-in to make sure everyone’s on the same page,” he said after the meeting.

The request for proposals for the federal grant was only released last month, so, “It’s a very short timeframe to do something that we consider to be significant,” Morgan said.

The proposals are due by mid-July, but the timeline for federal discretionary grant awards is variable given the volume of applications, Byrne said.

“There’s been a lot of momentum in indirect ways,” Morgan said. The St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission has “put about $8 million in already” to move water and sewer lines there, which is currently underway, Morgan said.

“We have a vision we’re trying to get ahead, and this [grant] just happened to fall into our laps,” he said.

Twitter: @TaylorEntNews

Twitter: @TaylorEntNews