On Friday, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) announced a gift for Calvert highways during a visit to the county. And on Tuesday, he had good news for St. Mary's County, too: nearly $55 million for roads in Lexington Park and Leonardtown.
"We really are thrilled," said J. Harry Norris, the mayor of Leonardtown, which will receive a small piece of the total amount but a major facelift nonetheless. A $3.2 million plan will turn the old state highway that runs through downtown into slower, prettier, more welcoming streets.
It will add a turn lane at Washington Street and bike paths, sidewalks, park benches, landscaping and street lights to Washington and Fenwick streets leading into the old town square. Those streets are now designated as Business Route 5.
When the project is done, the roads will no longer be a state highway -- they'll be turned over to the town. Local officials will be responsible for maintaining the route. They'll have to clear snow or paint stripes as the years go on, Norris said, but it's only about a mile's worth of maintenance, and the state highway designation was a holdover from the days before Route 5 passed them by. "We'd rather do it," he said. "It really is a town street."
It all fits in with the town's plan to keep its old-timey downtown a quiet, friendly place -- even as builders line up to add housing developments nearby, and plans for a golf course, hotel and park have been bubbling.
"Kind of makes you want to live here, doesn't it?" Norris said.
A big chunk of the transportation money will go to a familiar problem in St. Mary's: traffic in and around Lexington Park.
With thousands of people driving to and from the Patuxent River Naval Air Station every day, roads often get jammed. Nearly 14,000 cars, trucks and SUVs crowd onto Chancellor's Run Road every day, and the state expects that to increase to 23,000 over the next 20 years or so.
Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan announced that the narrow Route 237, better known as Chancellor's Run Road, would be widened to a four-lane highway in both directions between Route 235 and Pegg Road. Workers will resurface it and add a raised median, lights, bike lanes and sidewalks at a cost of about $51 million.
U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) worked to get $10 million in federal funding for Chancellor's Run into a House bill, which is now stalled.
The news Tuesday delighted local leaders, including county commissioners, delegates and others thinking about the upcoming Defense Department base closure and realignment process. Their goal has been to make the naval air station as seamless a part of the community as possible to help improve its chances of surviving any cutbacks and perhaps growing again.
"We're pleased," said Commissioner Thomas A. Mattingly Sr. (D-Leonardtown). "It's been a long time coming." Fortunately, he said, officials were able to make the case that Chancellor's Run improvements were important for local initiatives and the looming base-closure process and get the funding after asking for more than 20 years.
Not everyone was thrilled -- especially drivers who were looking forward to roads without construction delays after the recent widening of Route 235 near the base. "I think it would worsen it if they did work on it," said Ricky Guy, an assistant manager at Nicoletti's Pizza on Chancellor's Run.
Work should be done in spring 2010.
Flanagan also talked about proposals for $134 million in projects for St. Mary's in the coming years, part of statewide plans to be submitted to the General Assembly in January.
Last week, Ehrlich announced more than $27 million in transportation improvements for Calvert County, including work on the county's most congested intersection.
The state will spend $19.4 million to widen the intersection of Route 4 and Route 231 in Prince Frederick, officials said. Another $7.9 million in state funds will be used to replace the 70-year-old Mount Harmony Road Bridge over Route 260; create a 1.4-mile hiker-biker trail along the tracks of the old Chesapeake Beach Railway; and upgrade Routes 260 and 261 in Chesapeake Beach.
On Tuesday, Flanagan also told the Calvert commissioners that the state is considering funding for a host of other county road projects totaling more than $42 million over the next six years.
The commissioners said the priority is widening the often-gridlocked Route 4 over its entire stretch in Prince Frederick. State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen said that project, which is not yet funded, would cost $65 million.
The state also plans to create a 300-car park-and-ride facility on the site of the old county fairgrounds, said Simon Taylor, the Maryland Transit Administration's planning director.
County officials said they could barely contain their excitement over the promised funding from the state.
"I'm just trying not to applaud here," joked Commissioner Linda L. Kelley (R-At Large).