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I-95 travel plaza renovations ahead of schedule

Artists' rendering of the renovated Maryland House exterior. (Courtesy: Maryland Transportation Authority)

Two travel plazas being renovated on Interstate 95 in Harford and Cecil counties may open months ahead of schedule — one as early as this fall.

In a presentation before the House of Delegates’ Appropriations Committee Tuesday, Maryland Transportation Authority Executive Secretary Harold Bartlett said Areas USA Inc. could complete renovations at the Maryland House by October 2013 and at the Chesapeake House by June 2014.

There’s financial incentive to get the jobs done more quickly, Barlett said, especially in the case of the Chesapeake House.

“That’s the peak travel period, that’s where they’re going to make the most money,” he told lawmakers.

The Miami-based subsidiary of Spanish company Areas S.A. is contractually obligated to reopen the Maryland House by December 2013 and the Chesapeake House by September 2014.

Barlett said the company had hired 70 percent of employees who wished to remain at the facilities after Areas was selected over incumbent concessionaire HMSHost Corp. to run the travel plazas as part of a 35-year public-private partnership with the state. The plazas, combined, are expected to employ 405 people.

Areas’ plan includes increasing the square footage of the travel plazas, with a greater emphasis on convenience store space and restroom size. Bartlett said the plan was in response to an expectation that most visitors to travel plazas want to fill their gas tanks, use the restroom and perhaps buy a cup of coffee.

Whereas Starbucks was the coffee vendor at both facilities under HMSHost, Dunkin’ Donuts will sell coffee at the Maryland House and Caribou Coffee will be the vendor at the Chesapeake House.

About a half-dozen fast food restaurants — ranging from Phillips Seafood to Kentucky Fried Chicken — will serve visitors to the travel plazas.