Officials: County Needs to Renew Focus on Roads

By Guy Leonard, St. Mary's County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md.—As the county government looks for options to diversify the local economy so as to reduce dependency on federal defense dollars some are cautioning that the county should continue to find ways to protect Navy and Marine Corp programs that make up nearly the entire economic base.

Perhaps one of the most cost effective ways to do that is to improve and build new roads but it’s a task that the county is only now catching up to.

The county has continued to fund the construction of a fully connected FDR Boulevard, but property acquisition and environmental study continues to delay construction. Meanwhile, traffic backups and delays continue to clog rush hour traffic to and from the gates at Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

“We’re about six to eight months behind on that,” said Commissioner Todd Morgan. “I’m not happy about it.”

Morgan said the county’s ability to improve roads and build new ones was critical to ensuring the growth of programs at the base, but also the community’s well being.

“We need to accommodate the base’s future and the community’s future,” Morgan said. “It has to be a win/win.”

“It’s been 25 plus years since we’ve built a road in St. Mary’s County.”

Commissioner Tom Jarboe said the county is still making infrastructure progress in building out the expansion to the St. Mary’s County Airport, which includes shifting Lawrence Hayden Road.

This project, once completed, should provide for infrastructure of another kind, Jarboe said, that being space for unmanned air systems test flights.

He said the county had to pay close attention to what was already happening on base since the unmanned FireScout program was moving out to the West Coast, taking with it critical jobs and program funding.

“Everyone is focused on BRAC [base realignment and closure efforts] and whether or not there’s going to be one, but the military is making its own changes when it feels it needs to,” Jarboe said. “It’s a big deal because it’s one of the Navy’s biggest UAS [unmanned air systems].”

“Infrastructure is a huge area we can be scored against.”

With the improvements at the local airport, he said, providing more UAS test space should help bolster plans to increase research and development efforts at the coming new building at the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center.

“We need airspace and test sights,” Jarboe said. “That’s a positive.”

Still there are other problems aside from the clogged main artery of Route 235 headed to the base; Great Mills Road traffic during rush hour remains a problem as does traffic from Route 5 to St. Inigoes at the Great Mills Road intersection where snarled and delayed traffic remains a daily occurrence.

Both Route 235 and Route 5 are state roads; State Highway Administration officials said there are plans to improve Route 5 as it crosses over a stream just north of the intersection with Great Mills Road.

They are also in the study phase for a plan to improve the problem intersection but as of now no firm solution exists.

“The plan will also address the flooding between routes 246 and 471,” said SHA spokeswoman Kelly Boulware.

And then there was the idea of connecting Pegg Road, which leads directly into the base’s main gate across route 235, to feed all the way back into Callaway.

Both the Pegg Road connection and a completed FDR Boulevard could have taken much traffic pressure off of Route 235 but so far the Callawy connection has not been pursued.

“I never understood why that never got more excitement,” Jarboe said. “It just makes sense that that’s what you would want to do.”

Economic development advocates have been pushing for the county to improve its road structure for years, they say, but the process has been slow going.

“It’s a severe issue but it has a number of different causes,” said Bill Scarafia, executive director of the St. Mary’s County Chamber of Commerce. “The county has not been in a position to build new roads either because of politics or finances.”

“The county needs to focus much more on infrastructure. All too often it’s been looking to the state to provide it.”

Officials believe that there is little left to do for Route 235, so the onus now shifts to other projects that can take the weight off of it and how quickly the county can do it.

“You’re not going to see Route 235 widened any time soon,” Jarboe said.

Besides its usefulness for providing for the base’s future, infrastructure improvements benefit the whole community, Morgan said, especially since it could help boost light manufacturing here if the base were to improve its capability to build parts for legacy aircraft in the face of shrinking research and development dollars.

“There’s a huge market and capability for that here,” Morgan said, adding such improvements played to local economic strengths. “You’re not going to reinvent the wheel here.”

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