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Elected officials bring home crumbs from highway feast

August 23, 2005|by TIM ROWLAND

Commentary

Gotta love the fact, as reported in The Herald-Mail this month, that the second-busiest highway in the City of Hagerstown is the one that runs right in front of Wal-Mart.

If ever there was an allegory for Hagerstown, there you have it. The second-busiest street. What's first, the one in front of the Mile Long Yard Sale?

Speaking of roads, Congress' $286 billion, pork-riddled transportation bill inspired headlines across the nation such as this one in the Bay Area Daily Review: "New transportation bill has something for all."

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Well, not "all." Guess who got the short end of the stick?

According to a press release from Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, Allegany and Garrett counties split $14.2 million. Frederick County alone got $19 million. And li'l ole us?

We got $800,000 so they can fiddle around with the Halfway Boulevard exit. Again.

That's right, the transportation bill provided an average of $90 million for each American county, and we got $800,000.

So to our elected leaders all around, I'd like to say, nice job. Really appreciate the effort. So what if you couldn't even scrape together one measly million clams for Washington County? Who cares? We love paying our federal highway taxes for other counties and other states. No need to thank us. We're just generous, is all.

Roscoe, Babs, Paul. Most excellent. And all you state and local elected folks who apparently don't mean squat to our reps in Washington? Keep up that low profile, guys, you never know when being utterly and entirely unimportant to anybody will come in handy.

Wouldn't want to stick your neck out and ask for anything. Besides, we got the airport runway. Who needs anything to drive on? Yes, nice work, everyone.

Thanks for the crumb. The biggest transportation bill in the history of this nation - $295 billion, counting a $9 billion accounting trick - and we get two buckets of tar-and-chip.

Specifically our project is stated thusly: "Widen road and improve interchanges of I-81 from south of I-70 to north of Halfway Boulevard, $800,000."

Hopefully, we will name these improvements after the great leaders who provided them for us. We should have the "Roscoe G. Bartlett Acceleration Ramp," the "Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski Deceleration Ramp" and the "Paul S. Sarbanes 'Local Truck Deliveries Only' Sign."

In a way you can't blame them, because they did get a lot of money for the state as a whole. Just not our part of it. So whose fault is that? Somebody either dropped the ball or never knew there was a ball in the first place. Isn't it up to state and locals to make those in Washington aware of our needs?

Transportation Secretary Robert Flanagan came here and told us that I-81 had to be a toll road, for crying out loud. Because there wasn't any money. Oh, there was money all right, just none of it for us. I'm not a big fan of pork, but if there's going to be pork, everyone deserves a rib.

In Alaska, they get a $223 million bridge connecting a town with a population of 8,000 to an island with a population of 50. Vermont gets a $6 million snowmobile trail.

The state of Maryland got a total of $3.8 billion. We got $800K. The Eastern Shore got $40 million. We got $800K. The Assateague Island National Seashore got $6.3 million. Hear that? A spit of sand and freaking sea oats cleaned our clock. And it gets worse. The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge got almost twice as much money as we did - for a bunch of waterfowl that don't even drive!

Is this what Washington County is to the rest of the state? Half a wildlife refuge?

By the way, what happened to our buddies in the aggregates industry - they get polio? When they want to dig stuff up out of our county and ship it out, they're glad-handing every politician in sight. But when we need some things built, they can't even drop anyone a card.

In one congressional vote, Washington County's roads became roadkill. In fact, worse than roadkill. There's an actual provision in the bill to fund a study of roadkill - you know, all the burning debates: Why it happens, who's to blame, how it can be stopped, tastes great/less filling. So roadkill will end up getting more money than Washington County - which is fitting, since roadkill has more life than our politicians.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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