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Lack of state representation responsible for partial solutions

March 19, 2006|By TIM ROWLAND

The Washington County legislative delegation has such a rage sticking its nose into local affairs - from tax rates to how we elect our local board members - it might be nice to see if they can demonstrate some small degree of competence in something that is more in their sphere of responsibility - the Dual Highway/Edgewood Drive intersection.

Washington County residents have sent tons of gas-tax cash to Annapolis, only to watch it be spent on urban roads and metro systems. And the governor got our delegation's votes for his avalanche of new fees that took the place of higher taxes.

For our trouble, the governor sent his secretary of transportation up here early on to tell the community there was no highway money for us, and - adding insult - that if we wanted to expand Interstate 81 to three lanes we would have to make it a toll road.

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Meanwhile, our local lawmakers have done nothing, save to hide under their desks when the word "roads" comes up, and grandstand about local tax rates in the hopes it will divert our attention from the fact that they are failing us miserably.

If we elected a Republican governor, our Republican delegation promised us they would have more clout. Well, where is it?

When we press the state on our paucity of transportation funding, they throw the airport runway in our face, saying they're helping to pay for that.

The real crime of the runway expansion isn't so much that the hoped-for hub of regional jets is just a pipe dream - the crime is that it gives the state an excuse to ignore our highway needs because it is spending millions to help expand, and then tunnel under, a cow pasture.

But newsflash: We don't drive on the airport.

Instead of being content with a little spare change left over from the $2 billion Intercounty Connector to patch the Dual Highway intersection in drips and drabs, our lawmakers should be demanding that the state step in with a permanent and immediate fix.

But they won't do this. "Oh, sorry Mr. Governor sir, we would never think of burdening you with a local problem that has reached epic proportions. We'll just return to our back benches now and be quite, like good little senators and delegates."

This is when you think that electing a growling cage-rattler like Paul Muldowney isn't such a bad idea. He's a lot of things. Quiet isn't one of them.

Local office-holders met this week to squabble amongst themselves over the problem and the fact that the pathetic $3.9 million the state has pledged for the project - along with equal amounts from city and county - will only bring the intersection from failing up to a D. And that even these improvements will be outdated almost from the day they are completed.

County Commissioner John Munson suggested Dual Highway be bridged over Edgewood Drive, an idea Hagerstown Councilman Kristin Aleshire called "ridiculous."

Aleshire is both right and wrong. It is indeed ridiculous to think that our reps in Annapolis will stop loudly posturing over gay marriage long enough to actually do something that would help thousands of Washington County drivers every day of the year.

Talk is nothing. We could send a third grader to the legislature to talk about gay marriage. What we need is results.

But Munson is correct to think that a dramatic solution - one that thinks forward 20 years - is the only real solution.

Because along with state neglect, poor local planning is also to blame. Commissioners past have known for 15 years or more that something needed to be done in the Robinwood Drive corridor to avoid a crisis, but - fearful of losing a few votes - they did nothing but provide us a map with "Options A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J" and I think maybe even a K. All they had to do was pick a letter, but they couldn't even do that.

Meanwhile, local governments have allowed development all along the lip of roads they should have known would one day need to be substantially widened.

So here we are, gridlocked. Financially, the county might be able to up the ante and speed the project if the state could ever be convinced to go along. It's currently in windfall mode from the building boom, new development taxes and higher property assessments.

Yes, the county will cap property-tax assessment phase-ins at 5 percent a year, but - having learned well from Governor Ehrlich it would seem - is merely shrugging at that restriction and raising county fees instead. It's no skin off their nose to get their money from landfill and sewer services instead of property taxes. Just as long as they get it.

Both county and state commissions have signed off on the proposed hospital at Robinwood, a plan that was taken to court 10 days ago by an opposition group that, among other things, believes the intersection can't handle all the growth.

A fire needs to be lit under our local and state governments if they don't want the opposition group to be proved right.

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