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Transportation plan is debated

February 19, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

Regional planning officials Tuesday outlined needed road improvements that will cost tens of millions of dollars, but the few residents who showed up at the public hearing questioned why the money was not being spent on alternative transportation projects.

"You can't keep widening roads. The mentality really seems mindboggling," said Boonsboro resident Joe Swope, who is conservation chairman of the Sierra Club's Catoctin group. "We need to have a viable alternative."

Christi Hatcher, of Kensington Drive, suggested shifting money from road projects to rail systems. One possibility would be to surround Hagerstown with a rail line, she said.

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Swope said more money should be spent on bus systems and perhaps on reviving trolleys, a popular form of transportation decades ago.

But Washington County Planning Director Robert C. Arch, who serves as coordinator of the Hagerstown/Eastern Panhandle Metropolitan Planning Organization, said such ideas are not realistic. He said studies have shown that demand would not support ridership for local rail lines.

"It's not going to happen at the county or city levels here," he said. "To make these kinds of things viable - it just isn't."

The planning group is gathering citizen input on a list of recommendations made by a consulting firm that studied the region's traffic patterns. Vienna, Va.-based BMI has projected traffic congestion will require $415 million in road improvements in parts of Washington County and West Virginia by 2020.

"The cost of these improvements far exceed any money that's available," said Phillip S. Shapiro, the company's vice president.

Instead, planners intend to spend $69.1 million for the most pressing needs, including upgrading the Interstate 81/Halfway Boulevard interchange in Washington County.

Additional hearings will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday in Smithsburg Town Hall and at 7:30 p.m. in Boonsboro Town Hall.

On Saturday, hearings will be held at 6 p.m. in the Ranson (W.Va.) City Hall and at 7:30 p.m. in Reynold Hall at Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

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