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Local projects could fit Obama's plan

December 03, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- If President-elect Barack Obama follows through with a plan to stimulate the economy through federally funded infrastructure projects, Washington County has a few to put on his list, local officials said.

The extension and improvement of Eastern Boulevard, the construction of a Funkstown bypass and the widening of Interstates 70 and 81 would all be ideal candidates for a stimulus program, Washington County Commissioners President John F. Barr said.

Obama said last month he had directed his advisers to formulate an economic recovery plan that will save or create 2.5 million jobs in the next two years, partially through jobs repairing roads, building schools and making other public improvements.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and other governors expressed their support for the idea Tuesday at a meeting with Obama, the governor's office said.

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"Infrastructure is the type of thing that makes perfect sense to invest in during an economic slowdown because it's a shot in the arm," O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adameck said.

Which projects would receive funding would depend on what sort of aid comes to the state, but it is likely the program would favor projects that create immediate jobs, Adameck said.

"There are projects, in many cases, that have shovels on the ground, are ready to go," he said.

Barr said the Eastern Boulevard improvements fall into that "ready to go" category. That project would involve widening and repaving the road beginning at Jefferson Boulevard, where the city's improvements left off, and building a new section that extends from the YMCA to Leitersburg Pike.

A rehabilitation project on the Harpers Ferry Road bridge over Antietam Creek is also ready to go, and a couple of other bridge repair projects could be "put on fast forward" to take advantage of federal funding, Barr said.

Other projects are not as close, but would benefit from a push to get them ready in time for consideration, Barr said.

Work on Robinwood Drive and North Edgewood Drive is important to finish before the new regional medical center opens in late 2010, Barr said.

"They're all major projects," he said. "I've been clamoring for two years that we've got to move past the talking stage and they are on our capital improvement project list, but if federal dollars became available, they could become reality much quicker."

Brien Poffenberger, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, also emphasized Eastern Boulevard and the Edgewood-Robinwood corridor, but he said I-70 and I-81 might be attractive projects for a stimulus program because of their importance as regional thoroughfares.

Local officials have a coordinated lobbying effort in place to ensure these projects remain on the state and federal radar screens, Poffenberger said.

"We are doing our best," he said. "I think everybody's doing their best."

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