County Comment: Senator Visits Commissioners, Discusses Transportation, Libraries, Public Safety

PH CAP: Senator Barbara Mikulski meets with County officials. L-R County Administrator Greg Murray, Commissioner John Barr, Mikulski


County Comment
Senator Visits Commissioners, Discusses Transportation, Libraries, Public Safety
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

Washington County Commissioners and staff met with U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski on Thursday, September 13th in a workshop session designed to provide input on County needs for federal funding.
Senate passage of Housing and Urban Development legislation on September 12th has paved the way for additional funding for the Boonsboro Branch Library, Mikulski announced. $200,000 in federal assistance will come to that County/Town project once the bill passes the House and is signed into law.
Growth issues were under discussion, with transportation, economic and public safety seen as keys.
Commissioner Jim Kercheval told Mikulski that transportation infrastructure issues were among the top priorities for the Board, with $2 billion in transportation needs seen over the next 30 years. I-81 and I-70 upgrades top the list, with replacement of the I-81 bridge over the Potomac as a major part of that upgrade plan.
Two hundred million could be needed for replacement of that bridge, Kercheval said. Senator Mikulski discussed recent passage of transportation authorization legislation in light of the recent tragedy in Minnesota that will provide $1 billion for bridge upgrades, and promised to support that project at the federal level, and by talking with Governor Martin O'Malley, at the state level as well.
A multi-state coalition is being established in Congress to secure funding for upgrades along the entire length of I-81 from New York to Tennessee. Mikulski said that with gridlock on I-95 and the New Jersey Turnpike, I-81 has become an alternative north-south route for passenger and truck traffic. The I-81 bridge would become a focal point because if additional lanes are provided, a two-lane bridge would become a "choke point" for traffic.
Public Works Director Joe Kroboth discussed needs for funding for local feeder roads, which have had to handle a 60-75% increase in traffic. Federal funding is also needed for mass transit in the County, for the County Commuter fixed-route and Paratransit system.
The Senator told her staff to mark down November 30th on her events list, the date that the $65 million runway expansion project at Hagerstown Regional Airport (HGR) is slated to be completed and opened. HGR manager Carolyn Motz showed pictures of progress on the project, funded with 95% federal/state dollars, which Mikulski helped the county to secure. Motz discussed business expansion at the airfield, currently providing over 1,000 highly paid jobs. One employer has 17 positions available that average $200,000 in annual salary, Motz said. Mikulski commended the airport business community for its role in homeland security.
Director of Fire and Emergency Services John Latimer thanked the Senator for assisting the County in funding the Emergency Radio Communications Project. $2.5 million in federal funds have been leveraged to improve that system, Latimer said. Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Randy Wilkinson echoed Latimer's sentiments, telling the Senator that the Communications project will improve public safety by enabling communications between all Police, Fire and Ambulance responders in this County and those in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, which has not been possible until now. The project is in the construction phase, and should be complete in early 2009.
Reduction of federal dollars has affected law enforcement programs nationwide. As chair of the committee in Congress that oversees the Justice Department. Mikulski said that working with Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, $1 billion in local law enforcement aid would be restored through legislation. The Senator promised support in local efforts to fight crime in the County.
The Washington County Free Library expansion will also get support from Mikulski. Library Director Mary Baykan talked about the Smithsburg and Boonsboro branch projects, supported heavily by the Senator. Mikulski promised continued support for renovations of the main library branch in Downtown Hagerstown. Baykan told the Senator that the County has set funds aside, and that the City of Hagerstown has promised support. In addition, $40,000 has been made available for equipment for the new library by the Bill Gates foundation.
Mikulski said that a "community stake" is essential in securing federal assistance and commended citizens of Washington County for helping in fund-raising for the Smithsburg and Boonsboro branch libraries.