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Bowers' plan for Robinwood transportation

June 13, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

The controversial bypass of Robinwood Drive was voted down by county government in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, but that isn't why former Washington County Commissioner Ron Bowers objects to it.

In an interview this week, Bowers told me that the proposed $7 million project is shortsighted because it's "a solution for today and not for tomorrow."

Instead, he said, the county needs a comprehensive road network plan that would deal with the expected traffic needs in that area for years to come. But before I get into the specifics of his plan, a few words about why it's important.

For 30 years, the Robinwood area has been designated a "new community" area. Located near Hagerstown Community College, planners envisioned it as Washington County's own version of Columbia, Md., where a variety of housing types - everything from townhomes to apartments to single-family homes - would be encouraged.

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The problem is that at its northern end, near the intersection of Md. 64, the road is only two lanes wide, with houses clustered close to the road's edge.

The wise course would have been to purchase these homes as they came on the market over the last 30 years, but that didn't happen, and at current real estate prices, it would be terribly expensive.

But something must be done, because Washington County Hospital has decided it wants to move to a site on the southern end of the road. As I noted in March, if a college student is late for class, that's unfortunate, but if an ambulance gets caught in a traffic bottleneck, the results could be tragic.

Earlier this year, county officials announced they were reviving a proposal for a bypass of Robinwood Drive - on an alignment the county abandoned six years ago. The bypass would bring traffic onto Robinwood Drive at a point further east on Md. 64. Somehow - and in March Public Works Director Gary Rohrer wasn't sure just how - motorists would be discouraged from entering Robinwood from the Md. 64 end and directed to the bypass instead.

Now for Bowers' proposal, which has multiple parts, including:

1) Making Eastern Boulevard, the road that runs between Md. 64 and U.S. 40, into a four-lane road.

2) Extending Professional Court, a cross street along Eastern Boulevard, across Antietam Creek and connecting it to Robinwood Drive.

3) Creating a rear entrance to Hagerstown Community College along Professional Court Extended that would bring students in at the parking lot near HCC's Kepler Theater.

4) Extending Yale Drive, which goes past Eastern Elementary School, out to the new section of Professional Court.

5) Upgrading White Hall Road in three stages, so that those coming in from the Smithsburg area would be able to tie into Mount Aetna Road and further south, into U.S. 40.

It's easier to see on the map accompanying this article than it is to picture from my descriptions, but it would provide additional ways to reach the hospital and the college. Bowers said it would not just solve the traffic problems of today, but prevent gridlock for years to come.

Told that county officials feel that bridging the creek now would only dump more traffic onto Eastern Boulevard, Bowers said, "traffic is what Eastern Boulevard is for."

Years ago, he said, land was purchased to add extra lanes to the boulevard and other construction can be financed in part with developer contributions and, in part, by redirecting the $7 million that would have been spent on the Robinwood bypass.

Speaking of that, Bowers said that he would make it "unattractive" for motorists to use Robinwood, but like Rohrer, he wasn't sure how to do that. Preventing traffic from entering Robinwood Drive from Md. 64 at that point would create safety issues, he said.

Bowers said that it's important to decide on a comprehensive approach now, so that the route of these proposed roads can be reserved.

"What needs to be done is to look at this as a long-range project, not just for the future of development there, but for the future of transportation," he said.

At this point, what's being done is "nickel-and-diming this project, Band-Aiding it," he said.

Should Bowers' proposal get serious scrutiny? Even he admits he's no engineer. And he's been out of office for six years now. But there's hardly been unanimous agreement over how to solve this traffic problem. And if Bowers is still willing to work on solutions to county problems, why shouldn't the taxpayers and elected officials pay attention long enough to determine whether his answers make sense?

To hear him tell it, citizens are still asking him for answers.

"There's not a week goes by that I don't get a phone call or two on this situation, and a lot of the questions are related to things that happened while I was in office," he said.

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