HOLLYWOOD, Md.—Clearing and grading for the long awaited St. Mary's Marketplace project, located on the western corner of routes 4 and 235, has begun, but improvements for the county's biggest intersection may still be years away.
The new development, which is set to include 90,000 square feet of commercial space on 15 acres, will sit at the door step of the busiest traffic flow in St. Mary's County, coming directly from the Thomas Johnson Bridge into the heart of the Lexington Park Development District.
The history of the project has been a turbulent one over several years with one developer dropping out and another, Klein Enterprises of Baltimore, taking over the project after consenting to a long list of requirements from the county, including building another section of FDR Boulevard from St. Andrews Church Road through Wildewood.
The prior developer had wanted to keep and renovate the shopping strip currently at the intersection but the county wanted it demolished and the land donated to the State Highway Administration (SHA) for eventual improvements to the major intersection.
One such option was to build a flying overpass at the intersection to reroute traffic, according to SHA, but, said Commissioner Todd Morgan, it was not a consideration for the shopping center's sake.
"The reality is is that the intersection at routes 4 and 235 has failed," Morgan said. "The flyover is one proposal but the center was not the reason for that.
"The shopping center is going to increase traffic but the state has an implied responsibility to fix route 4 and 235."
Morgan said he had not seen anything in the state budget from Gov. Larry Hogan's administration that puts any more money into improving the intersection there, though the project is part and parcel to eventual improvements to the Thomas Johnson Bridge.
"It could take years and years," Morgan said.
In the meantime, Morgan said, the developer would be granted access to the project over the county right of way on the Three Notch Trail to provide access from Route 235's south bound lanes.
There was no access granted to bring traffic in from the north bound lanes, he said.
"The developer's been patient and followed the rules," Morgan said.
County officials had also commented privately throughout the process that the prior developer's plans to move the Food Lion grocery store from the Laurel Glen shopping center further south to the new site was not a favored option.
Essentially that move would have left a major storefront vacant in an older, harder-to-fill shopping center.
"They didn't have the wherewithal to meet all the conditions," saidPhil Shire, director of the Department of Land Use and Growth Management.
The prior board of county commissioners, of which Morgan was also a member, denied the prior developer's access to Route 235 across the county right of way, essentially derailing the project for a time.
Klein Enterprises has announced in recent months that Harris Teeter would be opening a store at St. Mary's Marketplace.
As earth movers clear away the many trees at the site, SHA officials have said that actual improvements to the critical intersection are indeed far off in the future.
"The intersection project at MD 4 and MD 235 is not currently funded for design, right-of-way acquisition or construction," according to a statement from SHA representative Charlie Gischlar. "SHA is working very closely with St. Mary's government stakeholders and ascertaining their desired priorities in that region."
Morgan said that commissioners would continue to join with the Calvert and Charles counties in making the Thomas Johnson Bridge project their top priority, despite the growing development around the MD 4/235 intersection.
"[The bridge] will remain the top priority," Morgan said.
The average traffic on Route 4 between Route 2 in Calvert and Route 235 in St. Mary's is 30,800 vehicles per day, which is expected to increase to 36,700 vehicles by 2035, according to SHA projections.
For more local stories from Calvert and St. Mary's counties, visit the County Times newspapers online.