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Frederick Co.'s $500K puts road widening in reach

By Bethany Rodgers

Wednesday - 9/14/2011, 9:17am  ET

Orange cones might soon pop up around Opossumtown Pike and Motter Avenue for a road-widening project now backed by Frederick County. The Board of County Commissioners last week decided to pitch in $500,000 to help ease congestion in the corridor.

County staff came before the commissioners in August to present four road projects that could use the half-million dollars generated by the building excise tax. Whereas a couple of the efforts are still in planning phases, commissioners zeroed in on projects that were "shovel-ready" rather than ones that might sit for years on the back burner. The work on Opossumtown Pike fit the bill, county staff said.

"The $500,000 contribution from the county will be of great benefit in moving the project forward," Zack Kershner, Frederick city engineer, wrote in an email.

Other projects under consideration for the $500,000 in county funding included work to improve the I-70 and Meadow Road interchange, expand a couple of intersections along Ballenger Creek Pike and add a turn lane in each direction of I-270 at Md. 85.

Designs are complete for reconstructing the Motter Avenue bridge over U.S. 15 and widening Opossumtown Pike. Officials hope the improvements will ease congestion along a section of road that in 2010 saw an average of 18,702 trips per day, according to Maryland State Highway Administration estimates.

The state agency will contribute $15 million to $20 million toward its portion of the project, focusing on rebuilding the bridge and widening it from four lanes to six, said David Coyne, district engineer for the state agency. The City of Frederick is planning to extend the new lanes down Opossumtown Pike -- construction work that has an estimated cost of $3.6 million. Roughly $900,000 of state aid and the money from the county will help offset that cost, according to Kershner.

On Thursday, the Frederick mayor and Board of Aldermen are scheduled to make a decision about partnering with the State Highway Administration on the road improvements. If officials approve the agreement, construction will begin next year and extend through 2015, according to Coyne.

While Commissioners President Blaine Young has made no secret of his thoughts on the building excise tax -- "I despise it," he said in a recent phone interview -- making the most of the fee meant helping the city.

"Every resident is a county resident," he said, adding that the city contributes a large chunk to the revenue generated by the tax.

Each year, the county decides what to do with money from the building excise tax, a fee meant to help finance road projects that increase traffic capacity, according to Young. But the tax adds to the list of fees that builders must pay, driving away possible growth, he added. Because road work is slow to progress, often the money funds studies for projects that stay on hold, he said. Young would prefer to do away with the tax.

"It's one more deterrent we can remove for economic development," he said.

Copyright 2011 The Frederick News-Post. All rights reserved.