The many roads that lead to Robinwood

December 11, 2005|By BOB MAGINNIS

After I wrote a Nov. 27 column offering to try to broker a peace between the Washington County Health System and J. Michael Nye, the chief opponent of its proposed new hospital at Robinwood, I got two kinds of feedback.

The first came from readers who said I'd insulted Nye with my description of him as less than perfect. (Nye said he wasn't upset, by the way.)

The second reply came from Gary Rohrer, the county's director of public works. Rohrer offered to sit down with me and Nye to discuss road projects needed to serve the hospital and other development in that area.

Nye is concerned because he feels Board of Zoning Appeals members, who approved variances needed for the new hospital, did so because they relied on Rohrer's assurances that roads would be upgraded before that facility opens.


On Friday, the three of us sat down to discuss that topic. Asked if all the roads will be upgraded by the time the new hospital opens, Rohrer said that projects that are key to handling traffic will be done, with a few provisos.

Rohrer said the next board of County Commissioners could change the priorities in the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) and the State of Maryland could run into problems funding its share of the intersection at Edgewood Drive and U.S. 40.

Rohrer said he doesn't expect either problem to occur, but in the real world, things sometimes happen.

When hospital officials began discussions about the Robinwood site, Rohrer said he told them they would need to do a traffic study - at their expense.

It was done by The Traffic Group of Baltimore, Md., and Rohrer said it went through four revisions before it was acceptable to the county.

The new hospital has been designed a "fast track" project by the commissioners and the county's Economic Development Commission.

That does not mean the rules will be bent to get it done, Rohrer said, but it does mean "rearranging the milestones" that have to be accomplished.

Rohrer said other projects that have been fast-tracked include: Fed Ex, Blue Seal Feeds and the addition to Valley Mall.

In those cases, the developers paid for a significant amount of infrastructure costs, just as the health system will do, to the tune of $1.7 million, Rohrer said.

"Did you say all the roads will be done by the time the hospital was open?" Nye asked.

"When I say 'all the roads,' I mean all the roads we believe are necessary based on the traffic impact study," Rohrer said.

"Based on the information we have now - and I can't control the funding sources - assuming that state highway comes through with their costs and the CIP is unchanged, everything at Edgewood Drive and U.S. 40 will be ready," he said.

Rohrer called that intersection "critical" to the hospital project. It is now in the preliminary engineering stage for a complete reconstruction, he said.

"They (state highway officials) feel it's possible to have the design done by December 2006 and to go to construction the spring of 2007," he said.

The total budget for that project is now $11.3 million, with Hagerstown, Washington County and Maryland each pledging to pay a third of the cost, Rohrer said.

Nye also expressed concern that when the new hospital opens, if main roads are crowded, many people, and possibly ambulances, will take shortcuts through residential neighborhoods.

That could happen, especially during projects to upgrade main roads, Rohrer said.

"The reality is that it's like a water main distribution system. If there's a clog in one place, it will go somewhere else," he said.

Rohrer said the main problem he sees is not increased traffic in residential neighborhoods, but aggressive drivers who speed through those areas without regard to safety, speed limits or stop signs.

Nye brought a map of the area to the meeting and quizzed Rohrer about the plans for at least a dozen roads and intersections. To his credit, Rohrer answered all the questions, though the meeting lasted about two hours.

A few roads reviewed include:

· Professional Court and Eastern Boulevard, where Rohrer said no upgrades are planned now, but rights-of-way will soon be reserved for the future.

· Eastern Boulevard and Dual Highway, which Rohrer said is Hagerstown's project.

· Cornell Avenue and Dual Highway, where Rohrer said nothing is planned now.

· Mount Aetna Road and Dual Highway, where Rohrer said an upgrade could go to construction next fall or in the spring of 2007.

The basic difference between the approaches taken by Rohrer and Nye is that Rohrer is relying on a professional traffic study and Nye is saying that it's just common sense to upgrade certain roads and intersections.

I asked Rohrer what the county would do if it turns out that Nye is correct on some road problems.

"What we would do is look at those on an individual basis. If there are safety issues, we would have to address those on an individual basis," he said.

Nye is still concerned that Robinwood-area roads will be overwhelmed, but it would be a stretch for anyone to say Rohrer is trying to distort the picture for the hospital's benefit. When there was nothing on the drawing board to address an area Nye felt was a problem, Rohrer said so.

Nye might not like all that he heard, but it would be impossible for him to conclude his concerns weren't given a fair hearing.

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