Struggling to get from Point A to Point B
For operations and employees, executives say Maryland must improve its transportation infrastructure
On any given day, the 160-plus employees of Frederick builder Morgan-Keller Construction might drive as far as Garrett County in western Maryland or to the Eastern Shore to get to a job site.
And when traffic is backed up on Interstate 70 or any of the other highways they take, that costs Morgan-Keller money.
"Being in traffic creates a headache when you're trying to be competitive," said Charles G. Clark, Morgan-Keller's vice president of business development. "It's the inability to access certain markets because of congestion."
More commuters joining together in carpools is one answer, he said. But another answer takes a lot more funding than officials say the state has.
"We can't build roads fast enough with all this growth," Clark said.
While state leaders added some money for transporation during the recently completed legislative session, the failure of lawmakers to pass a bill that provides a more stable funding mechanism for desperately needed transportation improvements and protects the Transportation Trust Fund from further raids will only exacerbate Maryland's transportation infrastructure woes, many business executives say.
"Infrastructure investment in the state is essential to maintain [job] growth," Jo Ellen Sines, vice president of project development for Corman Construction of Annapolis Junction, said in a recent committee hearing on legislation that would have raised the state's fuel tax and vehicle registration fees to boost transportation funding. Corman has worked on some of the largest and most complex transportation projects in the state, including the Intercounty Connector, an 18.8-mile tollway that is planned to stretch from Interstate 370 in Gaithersburg to Prince George's County.
Gus Bauman, chairman of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding, said he wasn't disappointed that the transportation bill didn't pass this session.
"These issues take time to percolate before there is action," said Bauman, a lawyer with Beveridge & Diamond of Washington, D.C., and vice chairman of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce's Infrastructure and Land Use Committee. "I'm very hopeful that transportation funding will be taken up in the special session this fall. ... It's got to be tackled."
ICC completion needed
Getting the ICC, which has been planned for decades and delayed following opposition by residents and others, completed to Virginia Manor Road in Laurel is a key priority for Thomas J. Aylward, vice president of development for Jackson-Shaw, a Lanham real estate developer. The first seven-mile segment of the tollway from I-370 to Georgia Avenue opened in February, with the portions to Laurel slated for completion by early next year.
Transit improvements around Jackson-Shaw's latest project, Brickyard Station in Beltsville, and efficient commuter rail service, especially on the MARC Train Camden Line in Baltimore, are other priorities, Aylward said.
"What's critical to us is what's critical to our customers," he said. "They want to see good road networks and good highways."
The Gould family and Forest City Washington, developers of the planned 2,200-acre mixed-use development project Konterra in Laurel, also are eyeing the completion of the ICC to provide easy access to its project. The developers have deeded the state 323 acres for the ICC.
The completed ICC will make Morgan-Keller more competitive, Clark said, because its personnel will no longer have to drive all the way down I-270 to the Capital Beltway to access I-95.
While Maryland's roads in general are in "pretty good" condition, numerous highways I-270 in particular need more lanes, said Gary Rudy, vice president of Frederick trucking business Richard B. Rudy Inc.
"270 is a good example of interstates not being expanded upon," he said.
Leaders with the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, among others, have called for high-occupancy toll lanes along I-270 and a proposed interchange at Watkins Mill and I-270 for years. Those would be helpful to employees who live fairly far north along I-270 and work at enriched uranium fuel supplier USEC's headquarters in Bethesda on Rockledge Drive near I-270 and the Beltway, said Paul Jacobson, vice president of corporate communications for USEC.
"Every urban area struggles with this issue of congestion," Jacobson said.
Employees with long commutes are offered flex time so they don't have to be on the roads during the most congested times, he said. USEC also looks at telecommuting, but many employees must be in the office to access secure Internet sites, he said.
GPS almost a necessity'
USEC's headquarters are in the same area as hotelier Marriott International, military and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin and others. "The area is well served by Ride On and Metrobus to take employees to and from the Metro station," Jacobson said. "Carpooling programs are well-publicized."
Still, when USEC executives must be in downtown Washington for energy policy meetings and other reasons, it's always difficult to gauge how long that journey will take, he said.
"It could be a 45-minute drive, and then it could be 90 minutes," Jacobson said. "We monitor Internet traffic maps before we go and then listen to radio stations. If we have a GPS with a real-time traffic application in our car, we use that to find the least congested route. A GPS is almost a necessity when driving around the D.C. area."
Morgan-Keller tries to accommodate its employees by sending them to job sites close to where they live, Clark said. He noted that the increasing price of gasoline could boost carpools, which happened the last time fuel prices approached $4 a gallon.
Better routing and more effective warnings given for the ongoing road construction projects also are needed, said KC Ford, founder of Bowie program management and consulting firm GettingThere4Him. "It would be so much better if they could do it at night just so people could get around," she said.
The congestion from thousands of more residents and workers entering the state through the Pentagon's Base Realignment and Closure program to Fort Meade, the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda and other areas should get officials moving on funding for transportation improvements, said Sines, a regular motorist on state Route 32.
"I can validate that the Fort Meade area is getting more and more congested by the day," she said. "If we wouldn't have put money into Route 32 for years, where would we be right now?"
Concern over gas,
Increased taxes for truckers, including a proposed 10-cent per gallon fuel tax hike, is one the chief concerns of executives at Morgan-Keller.
"Costs would go up," Clark said.
Romelia Kemp, owner of DJ Liability, an emergency board-up service in Suitland, added, "There should be consideration given to companies that put so many hours onto the road."
This issue is equally important to the Greater Prince George's Business Roundtable, although the organization has yet to take an official stand on the matter, said M.H. Jim Estepp, president and CEO of the group.
"Everybody is hurting so badly that we're concerned a gas tax might impact recovery," he said.
But he also acknowledged that some funding mechanism had to be found to achieve the roundtable's transportation goals around the Joint Base Andrews in Camp Springs, such as the extension of the Branch Avenue Metrorail line and general improvements around the thoroughfares. The roundtable also wants to see work done on the interchange at Suitland Parkway.
"This is vital to economic success there and bringing in more commercial and residential development," he said.
Keeping vehicle registration fees from being doubled is another concern, as is protecting the Transportation Trust Fund from further raids for the state General Fund, said Rudy of Richard B. Rudy. "The Maryland Transportation Trust Fund must be protected and used for road improvements only," he said.
Rising prices at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Metro are a big concern at The Arc of Prince George's County in Largo, said Mac Ramsey, its executive director. The nonprofit provides services for people with developmental disabilities and their families, many of whom use the Metro and its Metro Disability ID Card to get around the area.
The ID card halves the regular fare price, but as Metro prices have gone up the last increase was 10 cents in February people with disabilities continue to suffer the hit, Ramsey said.
"It's still a very good service, but it's certainly hitting their pockets," he said. Metro has been adjusting access for people with disabilities, with the tight budgets forcing Metro to meet standards for compliance rather than exceed them, as it has done in the past, Ramsey said.
Leaders of Melwood, another nonprofit that focuses on people with developmental disabilities, are concerned that additional budget pressure on counties could discourage them from adding needed public transit options in areas farther away from D.C., such as Anne Arundel and Charles counties, said Jonathon Rondau, chief program officer for the Upper Marlboro nonprofit.
Melwood has 42 contracts with federal government sites in D.C. and must figure out how to use its limited resources to get its clients to work if Metro is not an option, he said. While the state seems to have closed discussion on potential service cuts for Metro, it is always on Melwood's radar, Rondau said.
Officials in Montgomery County are pushing for more mass transit options, including the Purple Line, a proposed rail line from Bethesda to New Carrollton, and the Corridor Cities Transitway, a proposed light rail or rapid bus transit line along I-270 from Shady Grove to Clarksburg. But Robert F. Waltz, president of N.E. "Bob" Waltz Plumbing & Heating in Frederick, said he isn't sure that mass transit is "a major solution" in his area.
"We don't put our mechanics on trains," Waltz said jokingly.
Many federal and commercial clients of Patriot Technologies use mass transit when visiting the Frederick provider of information security services and products, President Bruce Tucker said. A light rail system connecting Gaithersburg to Frederick would be a big benefit, though it might be a "dream," he said.
Expanding the airport in Frederick to accommodate bigger planes also would be a step in the right direction, Tucker said. "If you're trying to attract headquarters [of companies], they have to get in and out of town but have to fly into D.C., BWI or Dulles," he said.