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Edgewood Drive/U.S. 40 upgrade must go forward

June 15, 2007

Whether Washington County government or the City of Hagerstown picks up a larger percentage of the recent cost increase for the Edgewood Drive/U.S. 40 intersection upgrade is a fair subject for debate.

But what absolutely cannot be debated at this late date is the need for the project. Years of poor planning led to the current mess. It's time to move ahead and the County Commissioners' decision to accept the state's revised estimate is most welcome.

The intersection, just west of the Interstate 70 Hagerstown exit, was identified as failing in a Maryland State Highway Administration study issued in February 2004.

Without an extra lane in each direction, the SHA study said there would be major gridlock by 2008.

And not just at that intersection. Do nothing, the study said, and, like a tumbling row of dominoes, every intersection from Cleveland Avenue to I-70 would also fail.

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In 2004, Gary Rohrer, then the county's Director of Public Works, suggested funding the project by a three-way split, with the state, city and county contributing a share.

In September 2005, Rohrer was still touting the need for the project, which SHA estimated would cost $11 million.

The following March, SHA staff met with city and county officials to discuss the project, estimates for which had by then reached $12 million. Given that it wouldn't be a permanent fix, some questioned the wisdom of spending the cash.

By April 2006, the two governments had decided to go forward, agreeing to split the $300,000 design cost.

For its part, the state sweetened its offer by saying OK to funding $6 million of the cost, as opposed to the $3.9 million share talked about earlier.

Fast-forward to this month, when SHA officials said that because of increased costs for overhead and paving materials, the cost has risen to $14.4 million.

That means the county's share of the costs would go from $3.38 million to $4.32 million and the city's cost would increase from $2.26 million to $2.8 million.

Commissioner James Kercheval expressed concern that costs might increase again and said there needed to be an "upper spending limit."

Costs might increase again, but let's admit that the intersection is failing in large part because previous county boards did not fund upgrades.

That's true in part because much development occurred before those commissioners agreed to seek fees that to force developers to contribute.

Barring the collapse of the U.S. economy, this project isn't going to get any cheaper. Keep a close watch on the costs, yes, but it must go forward as soon as possible.

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