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Compromise might be solution to traffic woes

February 20, 2011|By TIM ROWLAND

When planners today talk about the road network that with any luck will connect Robinwood Drive with Eastern Boulevard, they call it “Technology Circle.” Twenty-some years ago, the hypothetical name was “Bowers Drive.”

Perhaps facetious, perhaps not, the name was penciled in to honor former Washington County Commissioner Ron Bowers, who — and those who know him might excuse me for making this leap — can be a bit persistent at times.

This creeping Jack Russellism did not always sit well with staff, and, if they grew impatient, the feeling was returned by Bowers, who didn’t always suffer bureaucrats lightly.

Today, he’s let bygones be bygones. Mainly.

Bowers’ plan at the time was the now-familiar proposal to bridge Antietam Creek east of today’s Eastern Boulevard and provide a rear entrance to Hagerstown Community College.

This week came word that the county is still, maybe, crawling inch by inch toward a road that should have been constructed many moons ago (at a far cheaper price, no doubt).

The latest — one hates to call it a plan — idea is to connect the west side of the HCC campus with Yale Drive at Eastern Elementary School.

This has the advantage of doubling the cost of the current project, while failing to alleviate overall congestion in any meaningful way. It is still a good idea, however, because it replaces the old idea, which took HCC traffic and dumped it onto Robinwood Drive in two places instead of one. That, county officials said, would be a “disaster.”

Yes, we could see that. Anyone could see that. Which makes you wonder how such a plan got on the books in the first place.

But no matter, this is just one spoke in the wheel of a much greater crime.

The first proposal to bridge Antietam Creek was in 1988 or so, before exponential expansion of the school, construction of the new hospital and before Robinwood Drive became densely developed by commercial construction.

And, Bowers said, much of the cost would have been paid back then by developers and landowners, who realized the potential a road might have on their profits.

Much has changed since then, except for: 1. The need for the road; and 2. The lack of progress toward building it.

Today’s county commissioners might object to the latter statement, but they appear to define progress as talk and “negotiations.” But a lot of people have moved past that point, and will not acknowledge any real progress that does not involve any pilings being poured for the bridge.

Along with the rear entrance to the college, it is interesting to note what else the county had on its plate 20 years ago, in terms of highway plans.

Roads were to be widened on the White Hall and Mount Aetna corridors, connecting Chewsville to Dual Highway and Robinwood Drive to Md. 66.

Bowers said a right of way was chalked in — and even some property was purchased — for the Funkstown bypass, which would have left Oak Ridge Drive near the UPS building and passed by the Good Humor-Breyers plant on Frederick Street, and joined Dual Highway near the former Sheraton.

Improvements also were planned on the northeast corridor from the old Fairchild building toward White Hall Road, but nothing much came of that one, either.

All of these projects sound familiar, obviously, because they are still being discussed. And by the looks of things, they might still be in the discussion phase in another 20 years. That might not be a bad thing, if the county had decided to limit the growth that was occurring in these corridors, but that didn’t happen, either.

So why do roads and planning for roads give us so much trouble?

“I can’t fault any particular group,” Bowers said. “But there were always diverse opinions and never any consistency.”

In this new political era, which is pretty much defined by how deeply you can sink your fangs into your opponent’s neck, compromise is a naughty word. But if the conditions of our traffic for today and tomorrow are any barometer, sometimes compromise is better than letting things drop.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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