State Briefs County On Economy, Current Projects

BERLIN – The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDT) and the State Highway Administration (SHA) had their annual Consultation Meeting with Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday.

“We’ve gone through some rough economic times,” said Harold Bartlett, the Deputy Secretary of Transportation. “But there are positive signs the economy is coming back.”

In an hour-long presentation, the commissioners were updated on everything from local construction progress to statewide traffic trends.

“Truck transportation is up 4 percent,” Bartlett informed the commissioners.

While the number may not seem impressive, Bartlett was quick to point out that an increase in truck transportation historically coincided with an overall improvement in the economy.

Another positive sign across the state that Bartlett mentioned was an increase in business at the Port of Baltimore, which included a $105 million, 50-foot berth being built. Construction of the berth was responsible for generating 5,700 jobs.

“Maryland is one of only two states that will have a 50-foot berth,” he claimed. “In 2014, when the Panama Canal is widened, bigger ships will be coming to the East Coast and will require larger berths.”

Bartlett mentioned another rare aspect that only a few states possessed.
“We are only one of seven states with a Triple AAA bond rating,” said Bartlett.

Receiving a Triple AAA bond rating in the current economy is difficult, as the rating is the state equivalent of a personal credit rating, meaning Maryland is in the top percentile as far as investment security is concerned.

While most of Bartlett’s presentation did not contain shockingly positive statistics, he would be the first to utter what many in the MDT and SHA would echo.

“Flat is the new up,” he said, referring to the fact that progress in the current economy could be measured not so much by things changing for the better, but more by them not taking a turn for the worse and leveling off.

SHA’s Neil Pedersen had more local updates for the commissioners.

First, he mentioned the decrease in fatalities across the state, down from 651 in 2006 to 549 last year. He then brought the assembly up to speed on the current SHA projects being developed in Worcester County.

Route 113 is entering the third of five phases, with phases 3-5 in the engineering stage. Both phase 3 and phase 4 are around 60 percent done with engineering. Phase 5 was only around one third engineered.

Pedersen also discussed the eventual replacement of the Route 50 Bridge into Ocean City. The estimated cost of the replacement would be $500 million.

“The current bridge is structurally sound,” said Pedersen. “We expect it has 20-25 years of existing life left.”

The $500 million budget did raise some eyebrows among the commissioners. When asked if there was any chance the price would rise in the years between now and whenever the new bridge is needed, Pedersen admitted it probably would.

“We anticipate the cost will go up,” he said.

At the end of the consultation meeting, MDT and SHA representatives were available for questioning. Commissioner Virgil Shockley took the opportunity to express his gratitude and to ask a question regarding vehicle legality in the state.

Shockley wanted to know if “Cam-Am” vehicles were legal in Maryland. Although he did not know immediately, Bartlett later said they were legal and could be registered in Maryland.