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Some say I-81 workshop was lacking answers

June 21, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Residents living in the path of a proposed widening of Interstate 81 said Thursday they attended a state workshop in the hope of receiving details about how they would be affected by the multimillion dollar project.

Instead, some said they ended up with little information and were left wondering whether they'd have to give up their properties to accommodate the widening.

Several dozen people showed up for a public workshop held by the Maryland State Highway Administration at Western Heights Middle School.

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The project may call for the state to take 44 homes along the interstate, 31 of which are in the Lakeside Mobile Home Park off Halfway Boulevard.

Rights-of-way also could cut through sections of the C&O Canal and the Garden of Eden in Williamsport. The Garden of Eden is eligible to be placed on the National Register of Historic Sites, state consultant Joan Glynn said.

Some business and commercial properties also might be affected, according to state plans.

I-81 would be widened along all 12 miles in Maryland from the Pennsylvania to the West Virginia lines. The project could cost up to $400 million and take 10 to 20 years to complete, a state official has said.

John Christman, a state consultant from Greenhorne & O'Mara Inc., said the State Highway Administration won't make final recommendations on project options until the summer of next year. He said residents probably won't know whether they'll have to leave their homes until after the fall of 2004.

"You're living in limbo for a number of years," said Sue Kline, who lives on Showalter Road, in the line of a proposed right-of-way off I-81. "Let the homeowners get on with their lives."

"It's not fair to people," said her husband, Richard. "If it's going to be done, they should at least buy up the properties right away."

The Klines said now that the project has been proposed, they wouldn't be able to sell their property to potential homeowners if they wanted to.

"Nobody in their right minds would buy it," Sue Kline said.

Richard Kline said he was disappointed with the outcome of the workshop.

"Personally, I haven't learned anything," he said.

The workshop was set up so that residents could look at maps of the planned project. State officials and consultants were on hand to answer questions.

"We were hoping people would speak," said Cheryl Raby. "This way, we had to search out what we wanted to know and the people to talk to."

Raby and her husband, Gene, said they are in the process of renovating their home, but they don't know whether they should continue until they find out how their property will be affected.

Gene Raby said it's possible the project would put them closer to the highway.

"You can't stand in the way of progress," he said. "On the other hand, you don't want five, six, seven, eight years of construction right in your backyard."

Joyce and Bob McDonald, who have two homes on Sunrise Avenue, just off the highway in Maugansville, said the project would cut through one of the homes.

"It's a shame that it's come to this, but I guess this is progress," Joyce McDonald said. "There's really not anything you can do."

Lynn Hough, a resident of Tammany Manor in Halfway, said her property wouldn't be affected but that the proposed improvements would put the highway a little closer to her home.

She said she supports the widening project because of frequent traffic tie-ups on the highway.

The State Highway Administration said the project is necessary to make I-81 safer in Maryland.

According to state statistics, there were 276 reported accidents on the highway between Jan. 1, 1998 and Dec. 31 2000. Nearly 37 percent, or 101, of the accidents involved tractor trailers.

The state statistics indicate that the fatal accident rate on I-81 was nearly three times higher than the statewide average.

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