By Bryna Zumer
Aberdeen leaders are hoping to avoid paying to move utility lines for state highway projects near Aberdeen Proving Ground, and a newly-proposed state bill could help them.
After a state project to add lanes to Route 22, “we suddenly found out in the city that we were going to be required to move some utility lines, and also we have some utility work that needs to be done on the access road at Route 715,” Mayor Mike Bennett said at a recent city council meeting.
State Del. Mary Ann Lisanti, elected last year after representing parts of the Route 40 area on the County Council, has introduced House Bill 920 in the General Assembly that would require State Highway Administration to cover the cost of highway projects in military communities.
The bill was introduced Feb. 13.
Bennett said paying for the utility work would be a huge burden to his city.
“All of that together is probably in the neighborhood of close to $1 million,” he said about the cost of moving utilities for the Route 22 and Route 715 projects.
“We were kind of aghast,” he said during the council meeting. “We cannot lay that on our citizens, and this is a State Highway project.”
Bennett said he spent a “considerable amount of time” speaking with state officials, including Transportation Secretary Jim Smith, asking why moving the utility lines was not part of the state’s contract, if it was the state’s project.
Bennett said Smith gave him an explanation, and “I didn’t really like it but it had to do with part of state law that didn’t allow them to do that, so I have been working with our new delegation, our folks in Annapolis, and Del. Lisanti has put a bill in that will have a public hearing on March 12 that will basically help with this issue with all the military communities in our state.”
“I plan on going down and at least being down there in support of this particular bill,” Bennett said. “It means a lot to our city and our taxpayers.”
Lisanti said Aberdeen leaders raised the issue when the delegation met with them and officials from Bel Air and Havre de Grace to discuss legislative agendas.
Aberdeen discovered they would be forced to foot the bill on utility work after the State Highway Administration finished razing houses along Route 22 to pave the way for its road widening work.
“It boggles my mind that a capital project that has truly been going on for 10 years, that all of a sudden, this came up,” Lisanti said.
She noted the bill, which is aimed at any project designed to enhance access to a federal facility, would benefit other Maryland neighborhoods. Bennett mentioned a proposal to move the Federal Bureau of Investigation building from Washington, D.C. to Greenbelt in Prince George’s County.
“We have many military bases, as you know,” Lisanti added.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the State Highway Administration had not responded to a request for comment.