The anticipated expansion of Fort George G. Meade has received a sizable chunk of federal highway money to widen Maryland Route 175, an early sign of the broadening impact of this western Anne Arundel County Army post.
Maryland highway officials said recently that they're moving quickly to begin spending the money for Route 175 that was included in the $286 billion transportation bill signed last month by President Bush. Before Congress earmarked $12.5 million to begin planning improvements to the roadway between Odenton and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, state officials had not budgeted any money, said Douglas Simmons, deputy administrator for the Maryland State Highway Administration.
Making improvements to Route 175, a two-lane road in some stretches of Howard and Anne Arundel counties, is the region's top transportation priority, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) said recently.
"This is a country road now trying to serve a modern purpose," Cardin said. "It has bottlenecks, accidents. As you look towards the future, we are anticipating significant growth."
The state road lies in the path of Fort Meade's growth, outlined this year in the Department of Defense's Base Realignment and Closure recommendations. An additional 5,361 workers, nearly 90 percent of them civilians and defense contractors, would move to Fort Meade over the next six years, constituting the biggest expansion among military installations in Maryland.
"What the regional impact of the growth will be -- we're really trying to define that now," Simmons said. "Do we have a full definition of what needs to be done? No, that's why we need to proceed with the study."
He said the state's detailed planning on traffic counts, right-of-way acquisition, environmental effects and engineering would take two to three years.
Route 175 is a broad four-lane highway in downtown Columbia that eventually narrows to two lanes as it becomes Waterloo Road east of U.S. Route 1. Humming with heavy truck traffic and bounded by county and state correctional facilities, the road crosses from Howard into Anne Arundel at Jessup, then skirts the Army post along its northeastern side before ending in the Odenton area. In Anne Arundel, it varies from a two- to four-lane road between the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and the Odenton area.
Howard transportation officials want to reconstruct the intersection at Routes 175 and 1 to relieve congestion, said Carl Balser, division chief of transportation planning. Eventually, the county also would like to have Route 175 widened from two to four lanes from Route 1 to the Anne Arundel county line.
Under the BRAC recommendations, two other Maryland military installations also would grow: the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda would add 1,889 workers, and Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County would get 2,176 workers. In September, the base commission is expected to make its recommendations to Bush. If approved by Bush, the recommendations would go to Congress.
Beyond the base recommendations, Fort Meade also is feeling the growing pains of the National Security Agency, which is based at the post. The NSA launched an unprecedented expansion last year, with 7,500 more workers anticipated by 2009. Fort Meade is changing from a traditional Army post to a campus-like facility where military personnel and defense contractors focus on intelligence, homeland security and information technology.
Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens (D) said she made Route 175's expansion her county's top transportation priority two years ago as she watched the area around Fort Meade become a magnet for new residential and commercial development. "It was just very clear," Owens said. "We knew we had to proceed as quickly as we could."
She said the state's congressional delegation secured the funding even faster than she expected. The money is part of an overall $100 million plan that envisions a multi-lane Route 175 with interchange improvements and a 30-foot high-noise barrier around Fort Meade's perimeter.
Fort Meade's growth will be felt not only in western Anne Arundel but also in Howard and Prince George's counties, Army officials said.
"We expect the demands on the community and the benefits to the community . . . to increase significantly," Col. John W. Ives, then installation commander, said last spring when the BRAC recommendations were announced. "There will be more military families living in the local community, more children attending local schools and more customers at local businesses."
Balser said that in Howard, "the magnitude of the [Fort Meade] expansion proposals was a surprise. Now we all have to figure out how to make it work."