Friday, Oct 23–Route 113 Dualization Phase Nearing Completion

SNOW HILL- The Route 113 dualization reaches another milestone this week with the expected completion of the latest section of the project, to be followed almost immediately by the start of work on the next portion, but the following three phases are on hold indefinitely until the state of Maryland has funding.

Phase 2A of the Route 113 dualization, from Hayes Landing Rd. to Goody Hill Rd., a distance of 2.5 miles, will be completed this week, State Highway Administrator Neil Pedersen said. Pedersen announced Phase 2A’s imminent completion on Tuesday, during the Maryland Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) annual visit to the Worcester County Commissioners to discuss the draft Consolidated Transportation Program.

“It’s around 90 percent complete, probably a little more than that as of today,” Pedersen said. “Some time late this week we do expect to open the second roadway.”

Work on the finishing touches to the new section of dual lanes will continue through the end of the year, he said. This stretch of road cost $22.2 million to dualize.

Phase 2B is up next, a 1.8-mile stretch of highway between Goody Hill Rd. and Massey Branch. The construction contract to build the next phase of Route 113 improvements was awarded earlier this year to the same contractor working on the current section.

Funding is in place for this work, which should cost $22.6 million and be completed in 2011, according to Pedersen. Engineering and the environmental permit process are in the later stages, Pedersen said. Clearing and grading for the next phase will begin as soon as work is completed on the current section.

“Past that will depend upon our getting additional revenues,” said Pedersen.

There is no money to proceed after the next section, however. Phases 3, 4, and 5 must wait until the state revenue stream picks up. Section 3 runs from Massey Branch to Five Mile Branch Rd., about four miles. Work on this phase will cost an estimated $60 million, and will probably be broken into smaller sections for easier funding.

Phase 4, Five Mile Branch Rd. to Public Landing Rd., about 4.5 miles, will cost an estimated $47 million. Phase 5 is a new interchange at the intersection of Route 113 with Route 12.

“We have a concept at this point,” said Pedersen.

The state does not have the $34 million needed for that work, however. Some engineering activity is under way for the three unfunded phases. Some in attendance, including Delegate James Mathias, urged state officials to find funding for the dangerous interchange.

“I understand the risk. I understand the danger,” he said. “I understand the expediency of getting that road fixed.”

The overall lack of funding dominated MDOT Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley’s presentation to the county commissioners Tuesday. Last year, after MDOT cut $1 billion from it’s budget, the agency then cut another $1 billion in January, followed by other, smaller cuts. Revenues have just not come back, said Swaim-Staley.

MDOT, which is attempting to preserve its capital program, is now cutting its operations budget. The agency has the same operating funds this fiscal year as last.

“For the State Highway Administration (SHA), that means our maintenance budget,” said Pedersen.

Safety work will still be done, but SHA has reduced efforts to clean up litter, pothole filling, road striping, and sweeping, to name some tasks affected by the cuts.

“The public will start seeing some of those reductions,” Pedersen said.

The cutbacks in maintenance are symptomatic of the economic times, according to Swain-Staley.

“We’re all feeling the effects of the economy,” she said. “We appreciate the difficulty that creates for local government.”

Stimulus funding has been a boon to Maryland transportation projects, with $400 million handed down for state highways, she said.

Worcester County received $1.3 million for safety and resurfacing work. Another $1.4 million was awarded to Shore Transit to purchase eight new buses. Ocean City transit also received funds for replacement vehicles, $1.8 million for four buses. A Coastal Highway resurfacing project was assigned $900,000 in stimulus funds.

More transportation funding could be coming to Worcester, which has applied for $12.5 million for the Eastern Shore freight rail line, which reaches from Frankford, Del., to Snow Hill. Priority will be given to projects in economically disadvantaged  areas, which could make the county’s application more attractive.

Worcester County submitted the only freight transport project in Maryland, Swaim-Staley said. The results of that application are due in early winter.

“We desperately need it here on the shore for our poultry business. Desperately,” said commission president Louise Gulyas.

Swaim-Staley praised the tri-county Shore Transit bus service as a model for other areas of the state.

“The operation is still struggling,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs. “There are many needs to meet,”

 One need is on the way to being filled with the recent purchase of land for a new Shore Transit facility.

“That was a big step,” Commissioner Virgil Shockley said.

Gulyas asked SHA to consider another minor project that she has asked for in the past, a pedestrian crosswalk across Route 50 at White Marlin Mall in West Ocean City. A crosswalk already exists near Hooper’s crab house, SHA district engineer Donnie Drewer said.

“I’m talking about White Marlin Mall,” said Gulyas. “We have so many people who walk on Route 50, from students who live in the area and do not have cars to people from the Park and Ride. Once again, I’m asking for a crosswalk.”

If people want to go to the mall, they aren’t going to walk up to the crosswalk near the Route 50 bridge then walk back, said Shockley.

The pedestrian crossing could be placed at Golf Course Rd. or at the junction with Route 611.

“Let me look into it and I’ll get back to you,” said Drewer.

“That’s fair,” Gulyas said.

Not everything was rosy during the meeting on Tuesday. Pocomoke Mayor Mike McDermott had some harsh words for MDOT on the recent 90 percent Highway User Revenue cuts.

“The commissioners have dealt us a straight hand,” he said. “I cannot say the same for the state of Maryland. It’s hard for me to realize the state didn’t realize before we struck our budgets.”