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LANHAM — Responding to deteriorating road conditions on the Baltimore/Washington Parkway, the National Park Service (NPS) announced on March 27 it will use emergency contracting authority to begin repairing the damaged highway.
NPS will begin a new phase of enhanced repairs to fix the road conditions on the parkway on March 29, said an NPS news release. Originally set to take place in the fall, the larger repavement project on the parkway will now begin in mid-April after a push from state leaders.
“The current state of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway is unacceptable – it’s a hazard for drivers and has led to serious congestion and traffic issues,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
“That’s why I wrote to the National Park Service stressing the urgent need to make these repairs immediately. I appreciate their efforts to work with us and prioritize this issue. This decision will ensure that repair work will begin right away so that Maryland residents can return to a safe, reliable commute.”
With the poor road conditions culminating to its most hazardous point in recent months, NPS announced that they were lowering the speed limit on the worst stretch of the road, between Maryland State Routes 197 and 32, on March 2.
The organization said in a recent news release that roads throughout the national capital region have become increasingly hazardous due to the increased precipitation in 2018, multiple freeze-thaw cycles this winter and the difficulty of keeping patches on roads during snow-plowing operations.
NPS Superintendent Matthew Carroll said NPS has placed 130 tons of specialized asphalt to patch potholes on the parkway since the end of January, but it has not been enough to save the road.
Van Hollen sent a letter to the NPS on March 15 urging them to move up their timeline of construction to address the issues with the road.
“In order to protect the public safety it is essential that you work with the Federal Highway Administration to accelerate this schedule,” he said in his letter. “I look forward to your response. If there are any reasons why you cannot start these repairs immediately, please let me know what they are so that we can work together to address them.”
U.S. Congressmen Anthony Brown (D-Md.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) and John Sarbanes (D-Md.), as well as Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), have all backed Van Hollen in putting pressure on NPS to fix the parkway.
According to the NPS news release, the reconstruction of the Baltimore/Washington Parkway began this past weekend with partial road closures from Friday through Sunday to complete the enhanced interim repairs. Using a different patching material and approach, the hope is that the repairs will hold until the official repavement project begins in a few weeks.
“We take our responsibility for the parkway very seriously and are making good on our promise to drivers to do everything in our power to improve the road,” Carroll said. “National Park Service crews have been working tirelessly. The special patching this weekend should improve driving right away and will be quickly followed by repaving.”
Working with the Federal Highway Administration, NPS has expedited a repaving project from MD 197 to MD 175. This section will be completed in two phases. Starting in mid-April, NPS will be completely repaving the road from MD 197 to MD 198. The second phase begins in mid-summer where NPS will repave from MD 198 to MD 175 as well as the access ramps in both work areas.
It is part of a multi-year, multi-phase effort to pave the entire 18-mile parkway. The project was initially slated to be finished in 2021 but will now be completed this year due to the expedited work.
The coming weeks, they will finalize a schedule for the repairs which will be made available to the public.
Gov. Larry Hogan has also been outspoken about the conditions on the parkway.
“The administration is right to recognize the overwhelming outcry from Marylanders about the absolutely horrible conditions on 295,” Hogan said. “It should not have taken this long, but what is most important is that we fix the road now.”
Last year, he announced the signing of a general agreement between the U.S. Department of the Interior and the State of Maryland to evaluate the transfer of ownership of the parkway to the state to expedite repairs.
He voiced his concerns more recently about the need for NPS to get serious about the repairs calling it “outrageous and unacceptable,” that the road is in such a condition. He also wrote a letter to the state’s congressional delegation asking them to help push for repairs to the road.
Congressional leaders have voiced their support for the new plans to address repairing the parkway, such as Brown who said the parkway too often falls into “disregard and disrepair” despite it being “an important regional artery for the tens of thousands of working families who rely on it.”
“I am heartened and appreciative of the Federal Highway Administration and National Park Service’s responsiveness, and their decision to act to immediately fix the parkway, making commuting quicker and safer for every person who depends on the parkway to get to school, work or to return home to their families,” he said. “This can’t wait.”