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Forum examines area's state of transportation

September 28, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Improving a road takes more than money and blacktop. There's political will to contend with - and air quality, too.

That was part of the discussion Wednesday when planning and engineering officials described the state of local transportation.

Robert Gordon, director of the Hagerstown/Eastern Panhandle Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, said counties must meet or work toward air-quality standards - or risk losing all federal transportation funding.

Berkeley and Jefferson counties in West Virginia and Washington County currently don't meet ozone standards, according to Gordon. Washington and Berkeley counties also don't meet standards for fine particles in the air.

"We don't get any (money) anyway," quipped Tony Dahbura, the chairman of the Greater Hagerstown Committee's transportation subcommittee.

The Greater Hagerstown Committee - a group of local business people and community leaders who work privately on local issues - held the forum at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater.

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Committee Chairman Tom Newcomer said the purpose was to inform the public, particularly candidates in the Nov. 7 general election. Several candidates attended.

Two more forums are planned next month, with different topics.

Newcomer told Gordon that it's frustrating to see Alaska get hundreds of millions of dollars for a bridge that wouldn't serve many people when Interstate 81 needs improvements.

Gordon acknowledged that funding often is political. "The rubber meets the road in Congress," he said.

At the state level, a local coalition is trying to make political inroads.

Brien Poffenberger, the president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, said his organization joined Washington County, the Greater Hagerstown Committee and the Hagerstown/Washington County Industrial Foundation last year to lobby in Annapolis on transportation issues.

This year, the coalition - which now includes the city of Hagerstown and the Washington County Board of Education, too - hopes to make progress on transportation issues, but also has a separate list of other issues, he said.

Another forum speaker, Washington County Planning Director Michael Thompson, said the county plans to spend $79 million within five years on road improvement projects.

The improvement of U.S. 40 and Edgewood Drive is the county's top priority, he said.

The state of Maryland will cover about half of the estimated $12 million cost of the project. Washington County will pay about $3.6 million and the city of Hagerstown will contribute about $2.4 million.

Hagerstown City Engineer Rodney Tissue said the city's major interests, besides the 40/Edgewood project, include improving Eastern Boulevard and building a southern bypass, which does not yet have funding.

He said traffic was projected to increase 58 percent from 2000 to 2030 in the Hagerstown/Eastern Panhandle region, so future development needs to consider public transit, bicycles and sidewalks.




If you go



What: Greater Hagerstown Committee public forums

When: Oct. 4 (general issues), Oct. 10 (education), both at 7:30 a.m.

Where: Robinwood Medical Center on Robinwood Drive, Room 122

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