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Highway study proposed

September 24, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening will ask Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge during a meeting next week to cooperate in a study of making Interstate 81 or another local route an interstate transportation corridor, the Maryland transportation director said Friday.

The $625,000 multi-state study will consider making Md. 219, Md. 220 or U.S. 522 into an interstate corridor, State Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said during a presentation in Hagerstown. It also will consider building a new corridor rather than upgrading existing routes, he said.

Meanwhile, Porcari announced the state has earmarked $70 million for transportation projects in Washington County over the next six years.

Discussing the corridor study, Porcari said more federal money would be available for whichever route is made into a north-south corridor because it would receive more interstate and international traffic, Porcari said.

The study's boundaries are the Maryland-West Virginia state line on the west, I-81 on the east, Interstate 68 on the north and a planned interstate, known as Corridor H, near Moorefield, W.Va., to the south.

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The Virginia and West Virginia governments already have agreed to participate in the study, which is expected to take 12 to 15 months, but Pennsylvania has been slower in responding to the idea, he said.

State Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, hopes the study will show that widening I-81 is important to the state's economic development.

"I know that there's a lot of exasperation about the fact that the state of Maryland is not looking at widening 81. I do think the widening of 81 is a critical issue," said Munson, R-Washington.

Munson and Greater Hagerstown Committee Chairman Bill Barton told Porcari I-81 should be widened regardless of whether the study concludes it is the best place for a corridor. They noted that Virginia and West Virginia are presently widening portions of I-81.

If I-81 in Maryland is not widened there will be an increase in accidents and traffic will bottleneck, Munson said.

Porcari was noncommittal on whether the state would widen I-81, saying he wants to see the study's results first.

A 1997 study commissioned by the Hagerstown/Eastern Panhandle Metropolitan Transportation Organization estimated the cost of widening the 13-mile Maryland portion of I-81 at $9.3 million.

Local business and government leaders will have a chance to provide input on the study, which he said would examine the social, economic and environmental impacts and benefits, Porcari said.

Porcari and other transportation department administrators were in Hagerstown for an annual presentation in which they update local officials on upcoming regional construction projects.

Maryland's $7.3 billion six-year transportation program is the largest in state history, Porcari said.

Despite the $70 million for Washington County projects the six-year program does not include money or plans for a Funkstown bypass. Washington County Commissioner John L. Schnebly said he was left with the impression that the state expects the region to take care of that project locally.

The program includes $1.3 million to synchronize traffic signals along U.S. 40 in Hagerstown to improve traffic flow.

The plan also has $5.2 million for enhancement projects, including buying property at Antietam and South Mountain battlefields, making improvements at Washington Monument State Park and building new "Welcome to Washington County" signs on Interstate 70 and I-68.

Glendening promised Thursday he would not increase the state's gas tax, which pays for state highway projects, before leaving office in January 2003, Porcari said.

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