BERLIN — Officials gathered at Stephen Decatur Park off Route 113 in Berlin Monday to honor former Delegate K. Bennett Bozman with the dedication of a stretch of US 113 to the late public servant.
During the dedication ceremony, $49 million in new funding was announced that will be used to widen a nearly four-mile stretch of the highway between Five Mile Branch Road and Massey Branch.
All told a 14-mile portion of US 113 between Berlin and Snow Hill was dedicated to Bozman Monday morning. In attendance at the ceremony were numerous delegates, state representatives, lower shore leaders and others who had worked with the late delegate during his 15 years in office. Family members were also present.
This is the third phase of the five-phase US 113 widening project. The total anticipated cost for the next phase will be $62.7 million. In addition to the $49 million announced this week, $10.7 million was secured last summer due to the passage of the Transportation Act. Construction on the third phase is slated to begin early next year.
Friends and family of Bozman said that he would have been touched by the dedication but especially pleased by the new funding. US 113 was always a pet project for the former delegate, who was adamant that it needed to be expanded to protect lives.
“I have to say that I don’t think there were many weeks that went by where some time during the week Bennett didn’t say something to me about US 113,” said Delegate Norm Conway. “We really need to get it funded. The number of deaths on this highway is atrocious.”
As a firefighter, Bozman was often on the frontlines of accidents on the highway and knew firsthand how important it was to widen US 113 for reasons of safety, Conway added.
Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) Secretary James Smith noted that Bozman had always shown both compassion and passion in discussing US 113. Those two ideals characterized much of Bozman’s philosophy in other areas as well. Besides being a civil servant, Bozman was a dedicated firefighter, Eagle Scout and family man. He was never afraid to speak his mind or hammer a point home, according to his wife, Betty Ann Bozman.
The delegate was not above hounding colleagues in Annapolis during lunch or breaks about the need for improved safety on US 113. To see the project advance is “a dream come true,” his wife told the crowd Monday. Bozman’s granddaughters already consider US 113 to be their grandfather’s namesake.
“They only called Bennett, ‘Boo,’ that was his name, and they’re already calling this, ‘Boo’s Highway,’” said Betty Ann Bozman.
Besides Conway, Delegate Mike McDermott and State Senator Jim Mathias were on hand as state representatives with plenty of their own personal stories about Bozman, a lifetime Democrat.
“I was thinking about the cost of lives down on the highway and how appreciative we are to get the road paved but how long we’ve waited to see it done,” said McDermott, a Republican. “Highway construction is a non-partisan issue. Department of Transportation money should be non-partisan.”
McDermott agreed with Smith’s assessment of Bozman’s passion.
“He was a passionate man and passionate men are given to being expressive at times and making sure you knew how they feel,” McDermott said. “And Bennett was not a wallflower when it came to making sure you knew how he felt … Sometimes you’ve got to shake the tree to get some attention.”
Mathias, a long-time friend of Bozman’s who replaced his fellow Democrat in the House of Delegates after his untimely death, called the dedication of the 14-mile stretch of US 113 a “living tribute to a tremendous public servant.”
“I am grateful for this recognition of Bennett and his family,” said Mathias.
Bozman also had a history of working closely with citizen groups to improve US 113. These groups included CRASH (County Residents Action for Safer Highways). CRASH Chairman Bob Hulburd spoke about how committed Bozman was and how much he respected the concerns of his constituents.
“He said he needed more local support. I said, ‘if I can get you the local support,’ [can you help]? He assured me that he would fight for us in Annapolis,” said Hulburd, “and he kept to his word. We did provide the local support and we worked together as a team.”
A wider roadway on US 113 is expected to improve safety and reduce traffic congestion, especially during seasonal peaks. Phase 3 is set to begin in early 2015 with construction potentially complete by winter 2017. The $49 million announced this week is split between $38.2 million federal and $10.8 million state. About 7,000 vehicles use US 113 daily with that number jumping to more than 12,000 during the summer months. The remaining phases will advance as funding becomes available.