By Susan DeFord
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Moving tens of thousands of new workers in and out of Fort Meade in the next few years is the chief worry of area officials as they analyze the expansion of the massive military installation in western Anne Arundel County.
Key access routes to Fort Meade -- Maryland routes 175 and 198 -- probably won't be widened until years after thousands of employees have relocated to the Army base in 2011, officials say.
"Transportation presents us with the biggest challenge," said Robert C. Leib, a special assistant overseeing Fort Meade growth issues for the Anne Arundel county executive.
The number of new jobs expected at Fort Meade is estimated at 22,000, which includes the ongoing expansion of the National Security Agency on Fort Meade property and defense contractors serving the installation. The region expects to gain thousands more jobs as the local economy expands to serve the installation's workers. The shift is part of the Pentagon's Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) restructuring.
Leib said the county is calling for an accelerated process to speed the widening of Route 175 but added that "it's a very long shot." As a result, area officials are studying how to widen smaller roads and unclog local intersections, as well as beef up transit to coax Fort Meade workers onto buses.
"These are what we think are quick-fix interim solutions," said George G. Cardwell, transportation planning administrator for Anne Arundel.
If congestion levels grow and commutes worsen, "people will have to decide how far do they want to drive to their job," said Kent D. Menser, executive director of Howard County's BRAC office.
The expansion at Fort Meade will be the largest there since World War II. Construction could begin next year on buildings to house the information and intelligence operations, said Jennifer A. Downing, a public affairs specialist for the installation. An office park for defense contractors on base property could get underway in 2008, she said.
The Fort Meade expansion comes in the midst of intensifying growth throughout the Baltimore-Washington corridor. Jean S. Friedberg Jr., a Columbia consultant working with Howard County, cited major mixed-use developments such as Konterra in Prince George's County and Odenton's redevelopment in Anne Arundel, as well as continued building near Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
"They're going to be big traffic generators. We really have to start thinking creatively," Friedberg said.
The widening of a five-mile stretch of Route 175, Anne Arundel's top road project for years, won't even begin before 2012, said Douglas H. Simmons, deputy administrator for the State Highway Administration. The project could take three years and cost $300 million, he said.
Even if funding is earmarked early, widening a three-mile segment of Maryland Route 198 beyond the existing two lanes couldn't begin until at least 2013, Simmons said.
But state officials are dour on that prospect and say that Maryland needs to raise more money for transportation, principally through a gas tax increase.
"As much as we recognize the importance of these [Fort Meade] projects, we can't add them to our capital program right now for construction," Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said this week.
Meanwhile, area officials are coming up with a lower-cost list of road projects around Fort Meade, where an added turn lane or a change in how traffic lights are synchronized could speed commuters' trips. Improving and expanding bus service also is a key strategy.
Anne Arundel and Howard counties are building a shared transit center on 16 acres of base property off of Route 198 near Tipton Airport. Laurel is considering a downtown taxing district to help pay for increased transit service, said Karl Brendle, the city's director of community planning and business services.