When Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan came to Charles County last year to discuss the economic climate for new road projects, he rolled in like a dark cloud.
"I had to repeat the mantra . . . 'No money. Can't do your project. Sorry,' " Flanagan recalled this week during a meeting with the county commissioners.
But this time around Flanagan and other state highway officials brought a brighter message, saying that a revenue package that emerged from the General Assembly this year meant more money for Southern Maryland and the chance to resuscitate some seemingly dead projects -- foremost among them, the Waldorf Bypass.
The increased revenue, generated partially through increases in vehicle registration fees, added $237 million annually to state transportation coffers, officials said. And over the next six years, Charles County would receive $104.6 million from this increase, officials said.
A bypass around Waldorf to alleviate the congestion on Route 301 has been considered and studied for more than two decades and has died several deaths over those years. Most recently, the proposed road has been hobbled by environmental concerns that a bypass to the west of Waldorf would damage local wetlands.
State and Charles officials met with representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Maryland Association of Counties conference in Ocean City last month and discussed ways to move ahead on the bypass.
They agreed to follow a model used in planning the proposed Intercounty Connector project in Montgomery County. In the process adopted for that project, all agencies involved meet on a periodic basis to resolve problems before they grow to cripple the project, said Flanagan.
The August meeting in Ocean City about the Waldorf Bypass "was a major step forward in getting this project kicked off," he said.
Charles County wants the state to fund the completion of project planning and environmental impact studies for the bypass, considered the top priority road project in the county, according to a letter the commissioners sent to the state Transportation Department. The county also asked for the state's help in defining the road's alignment and securing the right of way for the bypass corridor.
"We're reenergizing the process, which is critical," said Charles County commissioners President Murray D. Levy (D-At Large). "There's a major traffic issue in Waldorf, and just doing nothing is not sufficient."
Levy said the success of the project depends on finding ways to mitigate environmental impacts while still building the road.
"And moving traffic along will help the environment in many ways," he said. "Cars sitting in traffic emit a tremendous amount of air pollution. Nobody seems to factor that into the equation."
Work on the county's other bypass -- around Hughesville on Route 5 -- will begin within the next several days, Maryland State Highway Administrator Neil Pedersen said at the meeting Monday. The state committed construction funding this year. The 2.3-mile bypass is intended to alleviate congestion and improve safety at Routes 5 and 231. Pedersen estimated the Hughesville Bypass would be open to traffic in 2007.
The county also asked the state to fund planning and design work for an improvement of the streetscape along Route 5 in Hughesville. But that project received the kind of response from state officials more typical of last year's trip to the county.
Hughesville's streetscape was on a "very long list" of such improvement requests, cautioned Pedersen, and "we'll see how that sorts out."