The primary complaint against a new road system flanking Hagerstown Community College and Meritus Medical Center seems to be that it will enrich private developers at taxpayer expense.
This might be true, but it is largely irrelevant.
Roads have been making well-located people rich for as long as camels have been packed with silks and spices and sent overland. The decision over whether or not to build a road is — or ought to be — a simple matter of need, as based on vehicular traffic. And if that need is established, then who benefits and who doesn’t might make for interesting gossip at the water cooler, but has no particular place in the central discussion.
The Washington County Commissioners sit at the brink of setting into motion a project that will, in time, create back-door entryways to the college and hospital and funnel it west over the Antietam Creek to Eastern Boulevard.
If they do not act, they will immediately lose $600,000 in federal funding and probably the entire project will be jeopardized.
Commissioners President Terry Baker seems to favor this course, in order to extract a larger chunk of construction cash from the ultimate developer of Mount Aetna Farms, a large but somewhat landlocked tract that will be opened up by the new roads.
We trust more reasoned heads on the commission will prevail.
Through the years, it has indeed been hard to watch as the commissioners have fumbled every opportunity to ease the traffic congestion they knew was coming. By now the road should have been built — and those concerned with taxes should take note: At $27.4 million, this network will cost us a lot more today than it would have if the project had been constructed when the need was first identified.
And if we delay now, it will cost us a lot more to build tomorrow than it will today.
Naturally, the investors who control Mount Aetna Farms will benefit from this project, but the idea that the county should wait around until it knows which developer to soak is almost beyond reason.
The developer, if one emerges, should certainly pay the standard impact fees and taxes, but it makes no sense to hold a developer accountable to a large share of a road that is necessary to alleviate traffic in the Robinwood corridor.
Even if the Mount Aetna property were an undevelopable swamp, the roads to the college and Eastern Boulevard would still be needed, and critically so.
Public Works Director Joe Kroboth is right to suggest that the Commissioners start by connecting the college to Yale drive with a road that would parallel Robinwood Drive to the west. That will help ease congestion to some degree, before the real fix of crossing the Antietam is completed.
He is also right to identify the area in which a private developer should indeed take responsibility — a $2.5 million spur that would open up Aetna to Robinwood Drive to the east. That’s a segment that would specifically benefit the developer, and not those driving to the hospital or college.
We do not know what the future holds for Mount Aetna Farms. A number of proposals have been put forth, some better than others. If the college, hospital and proposed senior center grow as expected, even the upgraded roads might not be able to handle another dense, high-traffic use.
But that’s an argument for another day. On the table right now is a good, workable plan to ease traffic congestion in and around Robinwood. That is all this discussion should be about.