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Interstate 81 widening may cause relocation

June 05, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The planned widening of Interstate 81 in Maryland intended to make traveling safer may also push people out of their homes and force businesses to relocate, State Highway Administration officials said Tuesday.

The State Highway Administration's project to widen I-81 from the West Virginia to the Pennsylvania borders may call for taking 44 homes along the interstate, and possibly cutting into the Lakeside Mobile Home Park off Halfway Boulevard, state officials said at a meeting of the Washington County Board of Commissioners.

"Once an alternative is chosen, there may be some residences that we would have to purchase," Douglas H. Simmons, director of the Maryland Department of Transportation's planning and preliminary engineering office, said after the presentation.

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Simmons estimated that the project might cost the state up to $400 million and take from 10 to 20 years to complete. He said it would be at least five years before the planning and design phases are completed, and that the first phase of construction probably would not start until 2007.

I-81 is 12 miles long in Maryland.

County Public Works Director Gary Rohrer said the project would not cost the county any money.

The state also has identified four businesses and commercial properties along the interstate that might be purchased to accommodate the project. The businesses were not identified.

The report also indicates that the state may take over portions of property of up to 44 residences and up to 57 businesses, while three churches/schools may have to hand over sections of land.

Simmons said the amount of land needed depends on which widening alternatives the state chooses for the project.

Eminent domain gives public agencies the ability to take land they need for a public project and pays the owner the fair market value for the property. The owner has the right to contest the takeover.

Dennis McGee, the Washington County Board of Education's Director of Facilities Management, said four county schools are near I-81. Those schools are Hickory and Williamsport elementary schools, Williamsport High School and Springfield Middle School.

He said, however, there are adequate wooded areas between the schools and the highway that would act as buffer zones.

"They're not going to come back and be right on our site," he said. "But it will be close."

He said the widening might approach Clifton Drive in Williamsport, which is the road that leads to Williamsport elementary and high schools.

Sue Rajan, the State Highway Administration's I-81 corridor study project manager, said there were 276 accidents on I-81 in Maryland since 1998, including seven fatal accidents and 136 that caused injuries.

Simmons said 34 percent of vehicles using I-81 in Maryland are trucks, which is one of the highest rates on any highway in the state. He said the rate is up to 40 percent on some areas of the interstate.

The project may include adding lanes and shoulders, and reconfiguring interchanges.

The Maugansville Road exit might be shut down as part of the process, officials said.

Officials said the state also is looking for a site along I-81 to build a truck weigh and inspection station, drawing the attention of County Commissioner Bert Iseminger.

"Why would you need that on 12 miles?" Iseminger asked. "If they haven't picked it up in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, why do we have to stop them?"

Iseminger said a weigh station would back up traffic even more and that it might make more sense to work with West Virginia and Pennsylvania to pick out a more suitable spot.

The State Highway Administration will hold a public workshop on the widening project June 20 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Western Heights Middle School on Marshall Street in Hagerstown.

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