Hogan, using largely federal money, designates funds for next widening of I-81
Credit: The Herald-Mail
Outgoing Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday morning he was amending the state’s long-term capital transportation plan with $100 million for the construction of phase two in widening Interstate 81 in Washington County.
Hogan added the earmarked funds to the fiscal 2023-2028 Consolidated Transportation Program, which will be submitted to the governor and General Assembly on Jan. 20 for their review and approval, according to Maryland Department of Transportation spokesperson Shantee Felix.
If approved, construction is anticipated to start in fiscal year 2026, Felix wrote in an email. That fiscal year starts July 1, 2025.
Gov.-Elect Wes Moore’s inauguration is scheduled for Jan. 18.
Phase two calls for widening almost 4 miles, between Md. 63/Md. 68 (Lappans Road) near Williamsport to the CSX bridges north of Halfway Boulevard, from four to six lanes — adding a lane in each direction.
While the money is not a done deal, it is a “huge next step in the widening of 81,” said State Sen. Paul Corderman, R-Washington. The Consolidated Transportation Program gets passed as part of the Maryland Department of Transportation’s budget so this is something to keep an eye on with the upcoming legislative session, he said.
About 90% of the $100 million dollars, came through the federal government, according to the office of U.S. Rep. David Trone, D-6th, and Felix.
The state directed about $91 million in federal funds to the I-81 project, said Sasha Galbreath, spokesperson for Trone.
“Our administration has been committed to making these transformative improvements to the I-81 corridor from day one, because it is such a critical economic lifeline for the communities and businesses of Western Maryland, and it is vital to our interstate supply chain,” Hogan, a Republican, said in a news release.
In October, Trone announced that roughly $4.6 billion from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act formula would come to Maryland over five years to improve highways and bridges. Trone voted in support of the act.
“For years, I-81 has been a danger and a headache for Washington County, and I’m glad the federal delegation worked with our state partners to provide over $90 million in federal funding — over 90% of needed funds — for this much-needed project,” Trone said in a news release issued Tuesday.
“This is very exciting news for the citizens of Washington County,” County Administrator John Martirano said through an email from the county’s public relations department. “This project has been and continues to be a priority for Washington County and we extend a special thank you to Governor Hogan and his entire team along with our federal partners for the funding commitment to this project that will have long term benefits for Washington County and the State of Maryland.”
Widening I-81 has been a priority for years
Matt Mullenax, executive director for the Hagerstown/Eastern Panhandle Metropolitan Planning Organization, said widening the north-south interstate has always been the group’s top regional priority when it comes to long-term planning, he said.
I-81 “carries more” than any other road in the region, Mullenax said.
What happens on I-81 and what funding is programmed for the interstate is of “paramount importance to our area,” he said.
“First and foremost, it’s a safety issue,” Corderman said of the need to widen Maryland’s 12 miles of I-81.
“Then it adds to economic development and infrastructure in our community,” Corderman said.
Washington County Commissioners President John Barr said even without the growing number of distribution centers in Washington County — some still under construction — there are other distribution centers going up north and south of Washington County, so the Maryland stretch of I-81 “gets nailed,” he said.
According to the state’s 2022 federal grant applications for the project, phase two of widening I-81 had an estimated total project cost of $91.8 million. That application was dated in the spring and inflation has caused significant increases in expenditures in more recent months.
Phase two, per an older grant application, includes improving interchanges with U.S. 11 in Williamsport, with Interstate 70 and with Halfway Boulevard.
Mullenax said the design and engineering work for phase two are funded, but are not yet complete.
Funds also are needed for designing phases 3 and 4 to get I-81 widened to the Pennsylvania line, he said.
Attempts to get federal funds go back years
County and state officials have been seeking federal grants for phase two since at least 2017, according to Herald-Mail archives.
Federal officials recently announced recipients for the new Rural Surface Transportation Grant, and phase two of I-81 wasn’t selected, Hogan noted in his announcement.
The project also struck out with the latest round of INFRA or Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grants.
The federal government, as well as the West Virginia Department of Transportation, helped fund phase one, according to Mullenax.
In that phase, the bridges over the Potomac River were widened to three lanes, along with a segment of the interstate to Exit 1 in Williamsport. That work was finished in 2021.
“If the plan is to apply for these (federal) grants just to be turned down, that’s not a plan,” Corderman said.
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Corderman said he encouraged Hogan and state transportation officials to find an alternate plan to pay for the continuing widening of I-81 and Hogan has done that by earmarking the money for phase two.
In the news release announcing the funding for I-81, Hogan stated, “We are proud to move this project forward in spite of federal inaction …” The release does not mention that most of the money for the project came through the federal government.
Michael Ricci, spokesperson for Hogan, wrote that he had no comment beyond information the Maryland Department of Transportation provided.
Felix, the MDOT spokesperson, wrote in an email that the $100 million is in Transportation Trust Fund dollars, which includes state and federal money. The state is providing a 10% match to the roughly 90% from the federal government.
“In addition to other sources, the federal formula funding is based on gas taxes collected and miles traveled in each state. The federal formula funding is provided to the state to determine how to fund projects across the state,” she wrote.
The inaction Hogan refers to correlates with the lack of grant opportunities the project received on the federal level, Corderman said.
Whether it’s federal money or not, it was the governor’s decision to earmark the funds for I-81, Corderman said.
That’s a “big win” for this community, Corderman said.