Washington County passed another milestone Thursday on the long road to widen Interstate 81, the divided highway that runs a little more than 12 miles through Maryland, with the county’s delegation moving forward with a missive to the new governor and administration.
“It’s basically a thank you for inclusion of the $100 million,” said Del. William Wivell, the chair of the Washington County delegation to the General Assembly, during the delegation’s weekly public meeting. The $100 million in Phase II funding for the project had been signed off on by Gov. Larry Hogan earlier this month, but it is the new administration of Gov. Wes Moore who is responsible for the budget for Fiscal Year 2024, which begins July 1.
Phase II calls for adding a lane in each direction, widening the road from four to six lanes total, for a stretch of 3.5 miles, between Md. 63/Md. 68 (Lappans Road) near Williamsport to the CSX bridges north of Halfway Boulevard.
The funding is included and described in the updated Maryland Consolidated Transportation Program for 2023 to 2028, which is Maryland’s transportation budget funded by the Transportation Trust Fund. The transportation budget was submitted on Friday, Jan. 20, to the governor and General Assembly for approval.
Moore released his budget plan for Fiscal Year 2024 that same afternoon, two days into his administration. The Washington County delegation unanimously approved sending the “thank you” letter less than a week later.
“Thank you for including funding for the expansion of Interstate 81 (I-81) in Washington County Maryland in the 2024 Capital Budget,” the first line of the letter addressed to Moore said.
More:Hogan, using largely federal money, designates funds for next widening of I-81
Acting Secretary of Transportation Paul Wiedefeld also to receive letter
Acting Secretary of Transportation Paul Wiedefeld, announced as the nominee by Moore on Tuesday, also was set to receive a copy of the letter, Wivell said.
Wiedefeld served as the director of the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Office of System Planning and Evaluation from 1991 to 1994. He later served as the administrator and CEO of the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) from 2007 to 2009.
The I-81 project first received design approval in 2005, the letter said. Wiedefeld worked in the private sector on transportation projects during that period, according to his resume.
The letter said the I-81 expansion is “needed to improve operational capacity and address safety concerns along this designated freight corridor.” Three Washington County high school students were involved in a fatal crash on the interstate last August, the latest deaths on the stretch of highway over the decades.
More:‘The most dangerous stretch of I-81 in the nation’: What’s being done to improve safety?
Construction not scheduled for a couple more years
If approved, construction is anticipated to start in Fiscal Year 2026, according to the transportation program plan. The 2026 fiscal year starts July 1, 2025.
About 90 percent of the new $101.2 million in funding comes from the federal infrastructure law enacted in November 2021.
The proposed expansion of the interstate comes amid the expansion of business activity in Washington County. In 2021, Amazon opened a 1-million-square-foot fulfillment center in Hagerstown, which ships larger items like televisions and kayaks across the region.
“The Maryland portion of I-81 alone carries more than 19,400 trucks per day,” the delegate’s letter said. “The final Phase is estimated to cost approximately $190 million.”
The governor pledged a total of $500 million in general fund investments in transportation during his news conference last week.
Dwight A. Weingarten is an investigative reporter, covering the Maryland State House and state issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DwightWeingart2.
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