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Robinwood Drive is the perfect symbol for Washington County

February 01, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

Twenty five years ago tomorrow, the Washington County Commissioners put the issue of improvements to the Robinwood corridor to rest. Or thought they did, at any rate.

At their Feb. 2, 1979 meeting, they decided to scrap in idea to relocate the northern section of Robinwood Drive closer to Hagerstown, instead planning to buy up rights-of-way along the existing road for widening.

"The project will proceed as soon as possible," the commissioners wrote in a letter to "all interested parties."

A quarter-century later, the project hasn't proceeded much, although the parties are still very much interested.

Perhaps more than any other project, Robinwood Drive represents the failures of Washington County government in microcosm. Plans were made and then unmade. Decisions were finalized and then scrapped. What was best for the county didn't get done for fear of political fallout, or because a favored few had the commission's ear.

Now Robinwood - the avenue to Hagerstown Community College and a burgeoning number of homes and businesses (including a planned, new hospital) - is a disaster, and about to get much worse.

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After 25 years of inaction, the commissioners are about do what they said they twice promised, in writing, that they wouldn't - relocate the road to where it will do the least amount of good.

It is well that the County Commissioners are so fond of the courtroom, since this decision is likely to land them there - only this time as the sue-ee instead of the sue-er.

Robinwood residents are frequenting lawyers' offices these days, and it is easy to see why. Along with being assured in 1979 that the road would not be rebuild to the west, closer to Hagerstown, residents were paid the same lip service in 1998.

Commission President Greg Snook wrote to residents at that time, promising that plans for two proposed routes to the west of Robinwood Drive had been "abandoned."

The County Commissioners meantime, had drawn up not one, not two, but 10 alternatives for easing congestion from Dual Highway to Md. 64. They were labeled Options A-J. What happened next was priceless and best recounted in a news story dryly written by Herald-Mail reporter Steve Dennis:

"The Washington County Commissioners, who had been considering 10 routes for a bypass of the northern end of Robinwood Drive, on Tuesday chose a route they had not previously discussed."

Yes, given Options A through J, they chose K - which might not have been such a bad idea had they actually followed through and done it. But of course they didn't. Option K would have swept widely to the East on the Smithsburg side of Robinwood Drive.

It would have gone a long way toward a permanent fix. But instead, commissioners are right back where they started 25 years ago, revisiting an old plan that is no more than a Band-Aid.

Three things are clear:

1. Smithsburg is the fastest-growing area of the county. Yet putting the bypass to the Hagerstown side of Robinwood does the Smithsburg area little good.

2. A bypass to the Hagerstown side will serve the North End, but it makes far greater sense to serve this traffic by continuing on with plans to connect Robinwood Drive to Eastern Boulevard.

3. Even though they will swear on a stack of Bibles to the contrary, hospital officials have known for more than a decade that they would be moving to Robinwood, and any elected official with the vision of a cross-eyed mole should have known this as well. That means the time to have acted was back in the '90s at the latest. The county didn't. Now when the hospital opens, a traffic disaster awaits.

Commissioners overlap, so it does little good to try to assign blame to any one or two of them. Instead, it's more of an inter-generational county mindset. Are the people who represent the county thinking about what the area is going to need 10 years down the road, or are they thinking about who might show up to complain at next week's County Commissioner's meeting?

In Robinwood, you have what in inarguably the greatest traffic crisis in the county, affecting thousands of people a day. Yet the county is off chasing runway extensions, spending millions on a project that absolutely no one can prove will ever affect any more than a handful of privileged few.

Governments like to name roads after people (usually themselves) whom they deem worthy of credit. For example, we have "Governor Boulevard" running through an industrial park.

The folks in the Robinwood ought to petition to have Robinwood Drive renamed County Commissioners Avenue because it so represents the political gamesmanship, indecision, futility and failure that sadly we have come to expect. And so everyone sitting in traffic waiting to get home, or to Hagerstown Community College, or the medical campuses, can know exactly who to swear at for their frustration.

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