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More than 16,000 travel out of county to work

September 04, 2005|By ADAM BEHSUDI

adamb@herald-mail.com

When Jim Harrell drives over South Mountain every evening, he enters a different state of mind.

"When you go over that second mountain, you can almost feel the pressure just leave," he said.

As an insurance broker whose daily commute takes him to clients all over the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., areas, Harrell said he drives up to 350 miles per day.

He said he has to fill his car with gas every day, which is a substantial investment considering current gas prices.

Harrell said he gladly commutes the 90 minutes to his office in Laurel, Md., and the additional miles to the many clients he has to visit in exchange for the quality of life he said his family experiences living in the Sharpsburg area.

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Having grown up in Hagers- town, Harrell decided to relocate to Washington County two years ago after living in the Baltimore area for many years.

He said it was a conscious decision to come back.

According to a journey-to-work commutation study done in 2003, based on numbers from the 2000 census report, 16,378 Washington County residents commute to workplaces in other counties and states.

While some who cross county lines every morning are going to nearby destinations in Frederick County and adjoining counties in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, others commute to the Baltimore and Washington areas.

Although thousands are leaving the county to work elsewhere, Cassandra Latimer, marketing specialist for the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, sees the trend going the other way.

"Percentage-wise, we're seeing it going the opposite direction," Latimer said. "We're seeing more people commute into the county than out of the county, and that's very good news."

The 2003 study has 20,451 people commuting to workplaces within Washington County.

However, when compared to a journey-to-work commutation study based on the 1990 census report, the number of commuters who travel out of the county has increased by almost 3,000.

Nonetheless, Latimer said she is encouraged by the strengthening job market within the county.

"I would say Washington County over the past several years is becoming a stronger and stronger employment hub for the region," she said.

As population centers around Baltimore and Washington swell, the number of people seeking respite among the towns and rural areas of Washington County is expected to increase.

Methods of commuter transportation in the area likely will be an issue related to the growth of the county, said Gregory I. Snook, president of the Washington County Commissioners and chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Snook said there is a chance of extending commuter train service to Washington County, but for right now, that's only a long-term vision for the county.

"We don't have the magnitude of people that would utilize it yet," Snook said.

Currently, some county commuters rely on other modes of transportation such as the commuter bus operated by the Maryland Transportation Authority and ride-sharing from the park-and-ride stops around the county.

Snook said the county might have to look at the possibility of enlarging the current park-and-ride locations or opening new ones within the next few years.

"We're growing probably at the same proportion as the counties east of us, maybe a little slower," Snook said.

He said the extra distance required to come over South Mountain might be the reason why people are reluctant to relocate here.

Joanne Legette and her family moved from Frederick, Md., because they could afford a better house in Hagerstown.

She said their single-family home with acreage in Hagers- town cost as much as their Frederick town house.

The move saved Legette and her husband money, but added time to her daily commute to Washington, D.C.

Legette said she has to get up around 4 a.m. to get ready to go to work.

To avoid traffic, she leaves early enough to get in the HOV lane on Interstate 270 before it is closed to cars with just one person.

Legette said she customized her schedule so she avoids traffic during her commute. She tries to leave her office at 3 p.m.

"It's tiring, especially when you have all that traffic around you," Legette said. "You have to be so alert when you're driving, and you're worn out by the end of the day."

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