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Editorial - Highway merry-go-round

July 21, 1997

Last Thursday, Baltimore ended a six-day smog alert, the worst in a decade, according to weather officials. But though cooler air finally dispersed the choking haze, Baltimore's air is normally worse than other, larger East Coast cities. A top weather official says that's because Baltimore "is sort of in the wrong place."

How can that be? And if so, why should anyone in Western Maryland care?

It can be, according to Eric D. Luebehusen, a meteorologist with the Maryland Department of the Environment, because of Baltimore's location on the coast. Philadelphia, which produces more pollutants, has fewer problems because it gets regular infusions of cold northern air. In Baltimore, problems are multiplied because breezes coming off the Chesapeake Bay push pollution inland and because prevailing winds bring Washington, D.C. pollution to Baltimore.

All this matters to Western Maryland because this region has already been included with Baltimore for pollution-monitoring purposes and because, like the city's court system, its correctional system and its schools, the rest of the state always seems to end up paying to solve problems there.

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That makes it all the more urgent that the state have a strategy to deal with the main cause of pollution problems - automobile emissions. Harvey S. Bloom, director of transportation planning for the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, blames the metro area's great highway system, saying it encourages people to drive rather than use other forms of transit.

We believe it's time for the state to stop looking at traffic problems without considering the effect more road building would have on the atmosphere. It's time to look at Gov. Parris Glendening's proposed Inter-County Connector from the standpoint of the pollution it would generate instead of the congestion it would (temporarily) relieve.

New roads help only until drivers discover them, at which time they become clogged with pollution-producing vehicles, spurring demands for even more construction. For Baltimore's sake, and Western Maryland's, it's time to get off this merry-go-round.

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