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New HCC road will not ease traffic nightmare

June 01, 2010

Unless the goal was to trick the public into thinking that it is making progress toward alleviating traffic congestion, it's difficult to understand what the Washington County Commissioners hope to achieve with their "back entrance" plan for Hagerstown Community College.

This plan spends money on a road that is useless in the short term and will only be of value in the long run if the county can implement a meaningful traffic solution by tying Robinwood Drive to Eastern Boulevard.

The net effect of this move is like buying a set of fancy rims for a car you hope to own some day way off in the future.

Almost as incredible, the county keeps signing on to new projects along Robinwood Drive. Most recently, city and county law-enforcement officials spoke in favor of a combined emergency-services training center at HCC that would attract another 2,000 people a year.

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The center itself is a fine idea, but along with the new hospital, new senior center and a bevy of county-approved office and strip shopping centers, Robinwood Drive is going to fail and fail spectacularly.

Those sitting in traffic in years hence may thank the commissioners for failing to reach a consensus over the project as a whole.

Reasons abounded, as always, but the bottom line is that the commissioners do not want to pay for a problem that is largely of their own making.

Commissioner William Wivell (who would have supported the whole project had the commissioners agreed to buy and sell surrounding real estate as a funding mechanism) explained, "I'm not going to commit taxpayers to $20 (million) to $30 million of a road network and then have the developer, who then has a much-improved value of his property, reap the benefits of that."

Perish the thought that a development that provides jobs and pays taxes would have a road running past its front door.

And while this fit against developers is all well and good, it has absolutely nothing to do with the problem at hand.

It is Wivell and the rest of the commissioners themselves who have already effectively committed taxpayers to an expensive road that must one day be built. In fact, Wivell was a leading advocate of locating the new senior center at HCC and also supports building a new high school smack in the middle of it all to boot -- so he is hardly in a position to say that roads are someone else's responsibility.

County wheel-spinning on a Robinwood traffic solution dates back at least 15 years, when the county failed to settle on a Robinwood bypass route. And the commissioners are only somewhat more action-prone today.

The commissioners do have a point when they say they need to spend money on the project to convince the federal government of their commitment -- opening the door to federal funding.

But if the money is going to be spent, why not get going on the segment that matters most, the route to Eastern Boulevard?

Again, with luck, the second HCC entrance will be part of the puzzle. But if the link to Eastern Boulevard falls through, this side road risks becoming a useless white elephant, or worse. As Commissioner James Kercheval says, all it will do is create two backups onto Robinwood Drive instead of one.

Many positive and exciting things are happening along the Robinwood corridor, and commissioners have been correct to support these developments. But it is entirely inexcusable that when the new hospital opens there will still be no new roads in place to ease the gridlock that they themselves have had a large hand in creating.

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