U.S. Senate Allocates $10.7M for MD Transportation; $0 for So. MD

Maryland Slated to Receive Nearly $13 Million in Senate Appropriations Bill for transportation and community development projects. But, not a dime is allocated for southern Maryland.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senators Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes (both D-Md.) today announced the Senate version of the Transportation, Treasury, the Judiciary, and Housing and Urban Development (TTHUD) 2007 spending bill includes key community development and transportation projects for Maryland. The legislation was passed by the full Senate Appropriations Committee this afternoon.

In the next step of the appropriations process, the bill will move to the Senate floor for a vote, which has not yet been scheduled. Following the Senate vote, the House and Senate will meet in Conference Committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The Conference report will then be voted on by both Houses of Congress. Once passed by the House and Senate, the Appropriations bill will go to the President for his signature.

Maryland's two U.S. Senators both boasted about the funding allocation. "I fight every year for federal investments that help keep Marylanders on the move," said Senator Mikulski. "More money for Maryland public transit systems means safer and faster commutes to work, better air quality, jobs today and jobs tomorrow." Sarbanes added, "This funding continues our on-going federal investment in our mass transit and highway infrastructure and will aid our commuting public in their day-to-day travels."

However, as far as southern Maryland is concerned, there is no funding allocated for either transportation or community development. Southern Maryland has been undergoing rapid growth the last several years. This is in no small part due to the relocation of NAVAIR, and her fleet of high-tech support contractors, to the Patuxent River (PAXRVR) Naval Air Station (NAS). PAXRVR is located in St. Mary's County. However, much of the work force travels into St. Mary's County daily from Calvert and Charles counties. Calvert County was also designated the fastest growing county in Maryland based on the population change from 01 April 2001 through 01 July 2002 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This achievement also ranks Calvert at No. 70 in the nation for that time period.

Southern Maryland is largely a commuter population. Aside from those who work in support of NAVAIR, a large number of the residents of southern Maryland also commute to jobs at Dahlgren in Virginia, Andrews Air Force base in P.G. County, and jobs in and around the beltway.

Due to the massive economic build-up at PAXRVR, rising fuel prices, and the large commuter population in general, more may need to be done to improve mass transportation here. Route 235, from California to the PAXRVR gates, was recently renovated and widened to accommodate the massive flow of traffic to and from the base. The final stretch of Great Mills Road that connects to MD Route 5 was also widened to four lanes in recent years. The Hughesville bypass is currently under construction to alleviate the bottleneck of traffic through the Hughesville portion of MD Route 235. Widening of MD 237 (Chancellors Run Road) in Lexington Park has also been fully funded. The design is estimated to be complete by April 2007 and construction could begin as early as Summer 2007.

The extent of mass transit in the region is currently limited to commuter and county bus service. Maryland Transit buses now make regular trips as far south as PAXRVR. There are also 11 Park & Ride locations in Southern Maryland, 4 of which are bus served with the remaining seven serving as carpool lots. Addition lots, and expansion of existing lots, have also been funded and efforts are currently underway in Charles County. Calvert County is currently working with state agencies to identify possible Park and Ride locations.

Despite these improvements, the roads are still packed with small vehicle traffic during commuter hours. In March of this year, the state provided funding $5M to fund a study for a Rt. 301 bypass around Waldorf. Traffic on Rt. 301 is very heavy due to commuters from southern Maryland and Virginia traveling to and from their jobs at Andrews AFB and in and around the beltway. Rt. 301 also travels directly through the business district of Waldorf. The numerous traffic signals and local business traffic impede the flow of traffic and make conditions dangerous for those trying to ingress and egress the highway.

Maryland Sen. Roy P. Dyson (D-29) has been a long time champion of transportation improvement projects for the region. In recent months, Dyson has been pushing hard for a second span over the Patuxent River to augment the two-lane Thomas Johnson Bridge that connects St. Mary's County to Calvert. Despite the Senator's pushing, the state has tended to concentrate its efforts on building a bridge across the Chesapeake Bay from Calvert County to the eastern shore of Maryland. “It would be absolutely disastrous if a second Bay Bridge crossing were to be approved in Calvert,” Dyson said. “It would cause even more congestion on our only major thoroughfare through the county.”

Dyson has also been pushing to get a commission to study the region's transportation needs overall. He last did so in the form of Senate Bill 281 which was approved by the Senate but later vetoed by Governor Erhlich in 2005. The Governor stated that he felt the study would conflict with other efforts that were already underway by the state.

Organizations such as the Tri-County Council of Southern Maryland have been working to extend light rail in southern Maryland. Previous studies going back as far as 1989 have already found the feasibility of commuter rail in the Maryland Route 5 corridor from the Branch Avenue Metro Station (just inside the beltway) to Waldorf and White Plains. Additional funding ($3 million) was secured in 1992 by Congressman Hoyer to move forward with the next phase of planning for the commuter rail project. Critics argue that with the ever-rising cost of gasoline and the high cost of road construction and maintenance–asphalt is based on oil, light rail is sorely needed in the region. The closest Metro stop at Branch Avenue also suffers from a parking shortage that leaves many vehicles parked in the travel lanes, if space can be found at all.

Some local citizens also noted that it would be nice to have light rail so they could travel into Washington, D.C. on the weekend to enjoy the culture.  Light rail would eliminate many inconveniences such as traffic, parking, and possible crime such as carjacking.  Mass transit would also allow people to enjoy a few drinks without the fear of having to drive home.

On March 16, 2005, the Tri-County Council of Southern Maryland approved the Southern Maryland Regional Transportation Needs Inventory. In it they identify the top regional priority as an upgrade to the MD 231 and MD 2/4 intersection, and the widening of MD 2/4 through the Prince Frederick area. The intersection upgrade is fully funded at $21.6M.  However, $64.4M remains to be funded to complete all segments of the project.

The next priorities in-line include the Waldorf 301 Bypass (study funded), adding another span to the Thomas Johnson Bridge on MD 4 (unfunded), and an upgrade to the intersection of MD 4 and MD 235 in St. Mary’s County (unfunded). The inventory also identifies a significant number of county projects of “regional importance” of which many are unfunded. The complete inventory can be found on their website which is referenced below.

The purpose of the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland is to serve as a forum for the resolution of region-wide issues and the attainment of regional goals. The Tri-County Council is a partnership of State and local government established more than forty years ago as the regional development and planning organization for Southern Maryland.


Tri-County Council of Southern Maryland - Transportation Issues

Senator Roy Dyson - Articles related to Transportation

Maryland Park and Ride Locations

MTA Commuter Bus Info

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