At the crossroads of the bypass, communities' futures are at risk

September 06, 1992|By Wayne T. Gilchrest

The eastern bypass is a billion-dollar highway to solve traffic problems along Washington's clogged I-95 corridor, but it will create all kinds of new problems for residents.

Is it dead or alive? From where I sit, it seems to be on life support.

The project, which was first proposed in the mid-1980s, has been officially called off by federal and state officials. But I think it's clear a de facto bypass exists.

We've seen dramatic highway improvements and expansions around the Washington Beltway: Route 301 through southern Maryland; Route 50 through Annapolis, over the Bay Bridge, up the Eastern Shore and connecting with a new interstate being built through Delaware to New Jersey.

All the pieces are there -- the only thing missing is the name.

I've had meetings with citizens about this topic, and I know many of them are concerned.

Maryland needs to establish its long-term transportation objectives. Now more than ever, it is important to conduct planning sessions that are open and accountable to the public.

If more roads are going to be built, expanded and linked together, the costs and benefit of such programs need to be thoroughly evaluated.

This cannot occur without full accountability to the communities that will be affected by major highway construction.

An environmental impact study predicted traffic would increase by about 40 percent if the bypass were built, and that's over 20 years.

Traffic would only decrease by 5 percent to 10 percent on the Beltway, but it wouldn't take long before more cars swallowed up this temporary decrease.

Increased traffic means air pollution, noise pollution, the destruction of our environment, and the deterioration of our waterways.

Highway building would have devastating effects on rural and environmentally sensitive areas.

Tens of thousands of additional cars would travel over the Severn River, the Chesapeake Bay and across the Eastern Shore.

There would be more 18-wheelers, forcing traffic off these routes and onto secondary roads and bridges.

The solution to Washington, D.C.'s traffic problems is not to pave Maryland.

There are alternatives: Improve public transportation such as light rail and heavy rail; encourage car pooling; or adjust work schedules to avoid peak drive times.

The people who see the eastern bypass coming aren't crazed conspiracy freaks. They are professionals. They are business managers. They are homemakers.

And they are our neighbors.

We can no longer afford to permanently alter the quality of life in Southern Maryland, Anne Arundel County, and the Eastern Shore.

It's time we all took a stand.

Wayne T. Gilchrest (R) represents Maryland's 1st Congressional District.

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