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'Bypass' reference on funding list was wrong

June 03, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett's office mistakenly said he is seeking $8 million next year to help build a highway connecting interstates 70 and 81 in Washington County.

The request was incorrectly titled "Hagerstown Area Northeast By-Pass Project," referring to a long-discussed, informal idea for a road northeast of Hagerstown.

The $8 million, requested in a letter by Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, is for road improvements in the Eastern Boulevard area.

Bartlett spokeswoman Lisa Wright said the project was correctly described to the Appropriations Committee, which will consider funding requests. But a fax cover letter to the committee, Bartlett's Web site and other information Wright provided all incorrectly called it "Northeast By-Pass Project."

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Bartlett's office recently posted his list of fiscal year 2010 funding requests.

One is $9 million for a four-lane bridge over Antietam Creek at Professional Court, plus a connector road linking to Medical Campus Road and a proposed new entrance to Hagerstown Community College.

The $8 million request mistakenly labeled is for work in the same vicinity as the $9 million request. Bruchey's letter says the project would "extend the existing portion of Professional Court over Antietam Creek, from Eastern Boulevard ... to Robinwood Drive ...."

Northeast bypass discussion goes back decades, Washington County Commissioners President John F. Barr said, but has never been formal and isn't in the county's Capital Improvement Plan.

The idea apparently resurfaced a few years ago as the Greater Hagerstown Committee, a nonprofit group of business leaders, came up with short- and long-term ideas for local transportation funding.

A Washington County summary of the bypass project describes it as a "highway (to) connect Interstate 70 on the east and Interstate 81 toward the north," about 13 or 14 miles long.

"Second to the recently completed improvements to the Hagerstown Regional Airport, this project could be the largest transportation initiative in Washington County since development of the interstate highway system in the 1950's and 60's," the summary says.

Those familiar with the project said the eastern point would be around Mapleville Road and the northern point near State Line.

The county summary estimates planning costs at $350,000. There are no estimates for right of way, engineering and construction.

Art Callaham, the committee's executive director, said his committee -- plus city, county and Chamber of Commerce representatives -- met with Bartlett a little over a year ago. They discussed several projects, including the bypass.

Around that time, Bartlett filed a fiscal year 2009 federal appropriations request for $350,000 for planning costs for the project, Wright said.

Instead, $95,000 was approved in the federal Omnibus Bill in early 2009.

Bartlett's request lists the recipient as the City of Hagerstown, care of City Administrator Gregory Murray at 100 W. Washington St., with telephone number 301-790-3200.

Murray is the administrator for the county, not the city. The address is for the county offices; the phone number is for City Hall.

What will happen to the $95,000 is unclear. Asked if the county will do a Northeast bypass study, Barr said, "Not to my knowledge."

He said the land where the highway would go is privately owned, making the project enormously expensive.

Brien J. Poffenberger, the Chamber's president, said business groups tried to organize a lobbying coalition for funding for transportation projects.

When city officials heard about the list of project funding ideas, "it was dismissed almost totally, particularly the piece about the Northeast bypass," Callaham said.

Hagerstown Councilman Martin E. Brubaker said he raised questions, but the groups that support the bypass study didn't come back with answers.

He said local governments should focus on the urban growth area that includes the city and runs from the Mason-Dixon line to the Potomac River.

Without the city's interest, the plan faded away. "The whole concept was we need to speak with a unified voice," Poffenberger said.

Bartlett and U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin have asked for about $74 million for projects specific to Hagerstown and Washington County next year.

As of Wednesday night, Bartlett's list still included the incorrect Northeast bypass reference. Wright initially blamed staff turnover and an improperly labeled file, but later said she didn't know why it happened.

"I was as surprised as anyone to see (the Northeast bypass) on Congressman Bartlett's list," Callaham said. "Surprised, but not unhappy."

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