CHESTERTOWN — Whether it is interest in a potential crossing of the Chesapeake Bay landing in Kent County, concerns over U.S. Route 301 or general complaints about roads, when the Maryland Department of Transportation comes to town, there’s usually a crowd.
COVID-19 has changed that. The typically packed Kent County Commissioners room held mostly empty chairs for the annual presentation of MDOT’s consolidated transportation plan Tuesday.
Secretary of Transportation Greg Slater participated via a fuzzy video conference. He spoke of lower than normal revenue in his department, but a mission that has not changed.
“The program we’re presenting today is $13.4 billion. We’re taking cuts across every department,” Slater said. “Every single cut we made was a difficult choice.”
Slater highlighted MDOT’s accomplishments in the county, like the ongoing streetscape project along state Route 291 in Millington that should wrap up around early 2021. MDOT also has partnered with the county for a restoration project to railway that runs behind Eastman Chemical in Worton.
Slater said reduced traffic on Maryland roads due to COVID-19 has allowed MDOT to complete work ahead of schedule. Work on the west bound span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was completed far head of time, Slater said.
Many of the state’s toll plaza have been replaced with cashless tolling in an effort to lessen traffic, he said.
Slater said the deadline for all Maryland citizens to get their Maryland Real ID drivers license also has been pushed back to Oct. 1, 2021 from the same date this year.
“It’s good to see the insight,” President of the Commissioners Tom Mason said following the presentation.
He sympathized with MDOT’s money woes. In regard to Slater saying MDOT will be spending less money mowing the areas around state-operated roads as a cost-saving technique, Mason said he’s not bothered as long as he can see well enough to make a turn.
Mason and Commissioner Bob Jacob did raise concerns over specific areas in Kent County. Mason asked about the intersection at state Route 298 and Melitota Road where he said turning is a challenge for farmers driving grain trucks.
Kenneth Fender, State Highway Administration District 2 engineer for Caroline, Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties, said that could be something for his department to investigate. He noted it may be a challenge to correct if the property around the intersection is privately owned.
Jacob asked about pipes rusting through the road between Rock Hall and Tolchester, which Fender said is another issue his department will keep an eye on.
Members of the Eastern Shore General Assembly delegation joined the discussion, as they annually offer a preview of the upcoming General Assembly session at the same meeting.
Though he acknowledged the state’s tight budget, Del. Jay Jacobs, R-36-Kent, said there has not been a lot of road work completed within the SHA district. He asked that Kent County’s roads receive some preservation work once the state’s budget is on the mend.
“I know (District 2) is not as populated as high as some other districts, but you and I both know, if you don’t maintain your roads there’s more to fix later on,” Jacobs said.
Slater said preservation of the state’s roads is a top priority. He said next year, he’s hoping to see a revenue comeback that will enable maintenance work to begin again.
“Rest assured that system preservation as we look over this budget is the top priority,” Slater said.