WASHINGTON COUNTY—New details about a controversial road network proposed through the undeveloped Mount Aetna Farms property near Hagerstown emerged Tuesday during a Washington County Board of Commissioners work session.
The latest concept plan for roads through the site, which is located between Hagerstown Community College and Meritus Medical Center, estimates the cost at about $27.4 million, according to a presentation from county Public Works Director Joseph Kroboth III.
The commissioners must decide whether to include any part of that road network in the capital budget on which they are expected to vote next Tuesday.
If the five-member board decides to postpone building any of the roads, as Commissioners President Terry Baker has advocated, the county would forfeit $600,000 in grant funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission, according to Timothy R. Troxell, executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.
If the commissioners decide to begin the road network, Kroboth strongly recommended beginning with a project to extend Yale Drive from Meritus Medical Center to a new back entrance to the HCC campus.
Kroboth presented 10 reasons why beginning with that connection is preferable to the alternative of connecting the new HCC entrance to the back of nearby Varsity Lane.
Topping Kroboth’s list was the fact that, if the county builds the Yale Drive connection first, a private developer can be expected to fund construction of the 1,600 foot connection from Varsity Lane to that new road — a contribution estimated at about $2.5 million.
Kroboth said with that private contribution, the breakdown of the $27.4 million cost of the road network would include:
• $9.7 million, or 35 percent, from Washington County
• $1.5 million, or 6 percent, from the city of Hagerstown
• $13.7 million, or 50 percent, in federal funding
• $2.5 million, or 9 percent, in private funding
The road network would be broken down into three projects:
• $9.3 million to connect Yale Drive 4,600 feet to HCC, with three roundabout intersections
• $15.6 million to extend Professional Court about 3,700 feet to the extended Yale Drive, including a bridge over Antietam Creek
• $2.5 million to connect Varsity Lane to the extended Yale Drive
Kroboth’s figures assumed the project would be awarded a federal earmark that would fund 80 percent of the cost of the Professional Court extension and the bridge over Antietam Creek.
The county and city would each fund 10 percent of that project, he said.
Baker has said he supports the road projects, but wants to table them until an agreement has been negotiated in which other interests, including the eventual developer of the Mount Aetna Farms land, would share in the cost of building the roads.
The Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation Inc., or CHIEF, a nonprofit organization specializing in creating business parks, is in the process of buying the land for a potential technology park.
Kroboth said Tuesday that expecting the developer to build all the roads would make development costs too high to attract businesses to the site.
If the developer must build all the roads, that developer would face a cost of almost $250,000 per acre toward land acquisition and infrastructure costs, Kroboth said. If the government funds most of the $27.4 million road network, the developer’s cost would drop to about $100,000 per acre, he said.
Kroboth also estimated that development of the Mount Aetna Farms property would raise the county’s tax revenue from the property nearly 20-fold, from $43,920 per year now to $823,500 per year once developed.
It is not without precedent for the county to build infrastructure to encourage economic growth, Kroboth said.
Other projects, such as extending Halfway Boulevard and improving Broadfording Road, were undertaken for the purpose of attracting employers to those areas, he said.
Baker argued the job-creation benefits at Mount Aetna Farms were far from guaranteed, stressing that other properties, such as the former Allegheny Power property, are zoned to allow research and technology businesses, yet sit vacant.
Kroboth said those were “valid concerns,” but stressed that opening Mount Aetna Farms to development was only one of several goals for the road projects.
The Yale Drive project is intended, first and foremost, as a second means of access to the community college and the senior center that is to be built there, Kroboth said.
Traffic studies have also shown that the project will improve future traffic operations on roads throughout that part of the county, Kroboth said.
The extended Yale Drive is expected to reduce the traffic volume on Robinwood Drive by about 1,000 cars per day and reduce waiting time at traffic signals on Robinwood Drive by an average of 23 percent, he said.
No votes are allowed during work sessions, so the commissioners could not take action on the matter Tuesday.