CUMBERLAND — Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement Thursday on transportation funding brought good news for a major Garrett County project.
New funding of $90 million will be available for design, right of way acquisition and construction to realigning U.S. 219 north of Interstate 68 and constructing a new interchange at I-68. Pending approval from the Federal Highway Administration, the state will break out the project from the larger U.S. 219 study. Construction would begin in the spring of 2018, according to documents released by the governor.
“This is tremendous news for us,” said Garrett County Commissioner Paul Edwards. “As you all know, this is a project that we have been working on for well over a decade and the fact that the governor has prioritized this financially brings it that much closer to fruition,” said Edwards. Quality infrastructure is key to economic development and interstate highways are the conduit for commerce in America, especially in rural areas, Edwards said.
“This new interstate will provide a north/south corridor to partner with our east/west Interstate 68 with Grantsville as the hub. The economic opportunities here cannot be overstated and will allow all of Garrett County greater access to the markets of the Northeast. This is really regional development, as Allegany County will benefit from this project as well as Somerset County,” Edwards said.
Hogan’s announcement was about more than just money, Edwards said.
“The governor has come through on his promise to try help the rural areas of the state. I commend him for that,” Edwards said.
Despite the good news for Garrett County, many transportation needs remain in the area.
Not all the specifics of the governor’s increased funding are clear, but about $500 million statewide will be used to fix bridges and improve roads, said Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine. “We have many projects that could use these funds,” Valentine said.
Among those projects Allegany County hopes to move forward on are replacement of the low-water Orleans Road Bridge that carries traffic over Fifteen Mile Creek. That and other projects are listed in the county’s 2016-20 Capital Improvement Program.
More than 20 bridge and road projects are in the CIP with not nearly enough money to fund all of the projects, county officials have said.
The total for the projects listed in the CIP is $16,369,946, with Allegany County likely paying $4,963,663 of those costs.
What used to be a steady stream of state funding from highway user revenues has declined and the county’s road and bridge repairs have suffered. Those funds have dropped from $4.6 million in 2008 to $462,965 in 2015, according to county officials. Allegany County maintains approximately 550 miles of roads.