Maugans Avenue project prompts a range of emotions

August 18, 2007|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MAUGANSVILLE - When Tracy Dinezza's children want candy at the nearby convenience store, she drives them there. The two blocks along Maugans Avenue are too hazardous for her to walk with a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old, she believes.

In a neighborhood in which a major road is about to get larger, count Dinezza as one of the project's staunch supporters.

When she found out that Washington County was making significant improvements to Maugans Avenue and needed to acquire land, her reaction was, "I'll sign whatever papers you want," she said.

Diagonally across the street from the Dinezzas, Donald M. Hoffman Jr. said he isn't thrilled about the work that's under way and wonders if it's necessary.


Hoffman said he moved into his house about a year and a half ago thinking that the county had acquired a strip of about 4 or 5 feet. Actually, he's losing a strip of about 11 or 12 feet. For him, parking near his house will change.

"If I had known, I probably wouldn't have bought the house," he said.

The county's improvement project has prompted a range of emotions among those affected.

A complicated project

Maugans Avenue will be widened from two lanes to five between U.S. 11 and Interstate 81. Turn lanes will be added and traffic signals installed at the interstate ramps.

Some business owners say they like the idea of having a better traffic flow.

A common initial reaction from residential property owners was displeasure, said Joseph Kuhna, the real property administrator for Washington County's Division of Public Works.

The county had to acquire property from about 45 parcels. Most owners were upset, but grew to accept the idea, he said.

Aside from the Hagerstown Regional Airport expansion, this might be the largest land acquisition effort the county has had, Kuhna said.

"This probably ranks as one of the most complex (county) road projects," Washington County Deputy Chief Engineer Robert J. Slocum said.

The main intricacies were the length of the project - about 4,500 feet - and its urban location, the numerous property transactions and the need for coordination with state and federal officials, Slocum said.

The project, which is being done in four phases, has been hampered by cost overruns, delays in moving utility lines and sinkholes.

But it's progressing and is expected to be finished around the middle of May 2008.

C. William Hetzer Inc. of Hagerstown has a $7.4 million contract to do the job.

Painful, but necessary

Doug Harnish, the owner of Cumberland Valley Insurance on Maugans Avenue, said the construction will be uncomfortable, but he's looking forward to the result: smoother traffic.

If a five-lane road brings more traffic to the busy road, well, "for a business, that's not a bad thing," Harnish said.

Kuhna said the improvements will make the road safer, too.

"It affects us greatly, but it's needed," said Asad Ghattas, who owns several business properties on and around Maugans Avenue. "Improvements are always painful, but we have a reliable, strong contractor who will do a good job ...

"The traffic is just unbearable at certain times of the day."

Dinezza agreed.

A stay-at-home mother, she said the traffic congestion builds around 1 or 2 p.m. and lasts for hours.

"It sometimes takes 20 minutes to get a half-mile," she said.

Dinezza is excited about the sidewalk that will be installed across the street and hopes another one will be constructed on her side.

"We have to drive down to the Sheetz in a van to get penny candy," she said.

Without a safe way to walk in the neighborhood, she has gained weight, she said.

Mike Alderton said he knew about the road project when he bought his house on Maugans Avenue about two years ago. He said he thinks he paid less for it than he otherwise would have.

Late in the afternoon, traffic is clogged from Interstate 81 to the entrance to Volvo Powertrain North America, Alderton said. He's concerned that more lanes will attract more traffic.

Terry Posey, who lives along the same stretch, said he also is anticipating "quite a bit" of traffic on the finished road.

"I'm not sure it will solve it," he said.

Alderton wondered how much worse the noise might get on a road that's already used by tractor-trailers.

Dinezza installed triple-pane glass at her house to try to keep out traffic sounds.

'No point in getting upset'

Aside from losing more land than he expected, Hoffman said he has other doubts about the project.

He said local traffic tapered off when the county put up signs warning motorists that they could face delays on Maugans Avenue during construction.

Why not have permanent signs telling I-81 traffic to exit onto Showalter Road, instead?

"I feel that would have cut down a lot of the traffic," Hoffman said.

Also, Volvo Powertrain employees who aren't going to I-81 could be directed to Pennsylvania Avenue instead, he said.

Jacque Goodnow, who also lives in the neighborhood, said she's had since 2002 to adjust. The work will happen, so "there's no point in getting upset," she said.

"You have to go through the pain to get the reward ..." Ghattas said. "The citizens of this town deserve it. They've suffered enough."

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