New hours at Gate 3 of Patuxent River Naval Air Station have snarled traffic around Lexington Park in the morning, at lunchtime and in the evening.
The St. Mary’s County commissioners pointed that out Oct. 2 at a joint meeting with Navy officials. Capt. Ted Mills, commanding officer of Patuxent River, said there is little that can be done about the gate’s operating hours.
Funds for the shore side of the Navy have been reduced to support the sea side, Mills said, which limits the money available for security at the station. Mills decided to reduce the hours at Gate 3, off Forest Park Road, because a change there would affect traffic the least, he said.
The gate is now open both ways from 5:30 to 8 a.m. and for exiting traffic only from 3:30 to 5 p.m. The change was made Oct. 1, the start of the federal fiscal year.
“Unfortunately, that’s just what we had to do,” Mills said.
About 1,500 base employees use Gate 3 regularly, the St. Mary’s commissioners reminded Mills in a letter Sept. 11 asking for the gate to be kept open throughout the workday.
At the pass office at Gate 1, which grants access to Pax River, “Right now there’s a line going out the door,” Mills said.
It’s a new federal fiscal year, so contractors are renewing their access to the base, and because the pass office relies on security funding, vacated jobs have not been filled, he said.
“This is not your fault, because you’re just passing along what comes down to you,” Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said. “But the change is causing bottlenecks at gates 1 and 2.
“We’ve written a letter to complain,” Morgan said, but the commissioners can do little more.
“It’s a difficult situation,” Mills said. “This is a corporate Navy decision to move assets.” But altering the hours at Gate 1 or Gate 2 would have had more of an effect on traffic, he said.
Commissioner Cindy Jones (R) suggested altering the morning hours at Gate 3 to 6 to 8:30 a.m. to help relieve traffic at the other gates. Gate 3 being closed at lunchtime cuts off potential customers to the Home Grown Farm Market, which is at Forest Park Road and Route 235 and is funded by county government, Morgan said. It also affects the business park off Pine Hill Run Road, he said.
Barbara Svenson, property manager of Pine Hill Technology Park, which is down the road from Gate 3, said, “It’s like a ghost town” since the hours were reduced. Defense contractors work at the location and need frequent access to Patuxent River. “And now they have to go all the way around; it’s very inconvenient,” she said. “It’s going to cost everyone else in mileage and in time. You would think the Navy with all of its smart people could figure it out. I really hope they change their minds,” she said.
The naval air station provides 22,200 jobs, and is the largest employer in St. Mary’s.