Public is helping shape area transportation plan

October 15, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Shenandoah Junction, W.Va. - A handful of residents put on thinking caps and played "roads scholars" at Jefferson High School Tuesday - one step in an effort to shape the region's transportation network.

The Hagerstown/Eastern Panhandle Metropolitan Planning Organization started working on a long-range transportation plan for Washington, Berkeley and Jefferson counties last fall.

The public has been invited to help create a plan by next year.

Since it's early in the process, the topics and discussion at Tuesday's public information meeting were broad.

The idea is to look at the possible evolution of highway traffic, bicycles, pedestrians, the movement of goods and more over the next 30 years, said Lewis G. Grimm, a senior associate with Cambridge Systematics Inc. of Chevy Chase, Md., a transportation consulting firm.


Grimm, who led the meeting, said the plan will be influenced by population and employment trends, as well as the availability of public money.

The last transportation plan for the three counties was created about 10 years ago, Grimm said. Some top-priority improvements in that plan, he said, were W.Va. 9 in Berkeley and Jefferson counties, Raleigh Street extension in Martinsburg, W.Va., and Halfway Boulevard in Washington County.

"Only projects on the long-range transportation plan are eligible for federal funds," he said.

No more than seven or eight people from the public sat in the high school cafeteria on a rainy Tuesday evening for the presentation, joining an equal number of transportation officials. Grimm said that's to be expected; turnout suffers until a plan gets more specific, which will happen in coming months.

Discussion included the potential for passenger train service in Jefferson County, the growth of bedroom communities and the best way to get through Martinsburg.

There is no good way, said Thomas Miller of Shenandoah Junction.

"You can't go around it or through it," he said.

The Hagerstown/Eastern Panhandle Metropolitan Planning Organization already has asked a variety of people for their thoughts.

The organization will rely heavily on U.S. Census data, too.

For example, the percentage of people who live and work in the same county is about 75 in Washington and 60 in Berkeley, but just 48 in Jefferson. Many Jefferson County residents commute to jobs in Virginia and Washington, D.C., Census data shows.

Annette van Hilst, who lives near Kearneysville, W.Va., shared her observation of traffic from a recent trip to Europe. Roads and highways are designed to be uncomfortable, causing people to want to use public transportation, she said.

Why not try that here? she asked. Why not have "unpleasant" highways steer commuters toward buses and trains?

"Well, those are some fairly significant policy changes," Grimm said, and probably beyond the scope of the long-range plan.

Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, suggested reframing the goal into a positive one. Government, he said, should "make more of an effort from this day forward to include infrastructure that makes it easier for walking, bicycling, etc."

There has been some movement toward that end, "but it's been baby steps," he said.

If you go...

What: Public information meetings on a long-range transportation plan for Washington, Berkeley and Jefferson counties

  • Today from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the library/media center at Martinsburg High School, 701 S. Queen St., Martinsburg, W.Va.

  • Thursday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the cafeteria at South Hagerstown High School, 1101 S. Potomac St., Hagerstown
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