Barren median, barren thinking

December 13, 1993

The Carroll County commissioners exhibited inane and simple-minded reasoning in rejecting the state's recent offer to landscape the median strip on Route 140. We're talking about something fairly basic: Whether to spruce up an ugly highway. You'd have thought the state had asked Carroll to take a toxic waste dump the way the commissioners responded, however.

The cost of the planting apparently loomed large in these commissioners' minds. And yet even if the county's annual cost was $24,000 (according to one estimate), it would amount to .00018 percent of the county's $130 million budget.

The more appropriate question was whether the benefit would be worth the cost. Surely, it can be argued that county residents would derive as much benefit from a more attractive highway as they derived from, say, the $10,550 the commissioners spent last year to belong to the Maryland Association of Counties and its national parent group.

How can Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy explain his new-found concern with the safety of workers who would tend the plantings LTC since state workers have long cut grass and picked up trash on Route 140? Trimming bushes on a highway median may be more hazardous than cutting them in one's backyard, but highway maintenance crews long ago developed ways to cope with the danger.

Mr. Lippy was outdone, however, by his colleague Donald I. Dell, whose comment that the state might better have put that $100,000 into the long-delayed Hampstead bypass project demonstrates the most flawed reasoning. That amount would buy about two feet of bypass. Most important, rejecting the landscaping money won't hasten the building of the bypass; it only means that someone else will have trees and bushes on their roads.

Make no mistake, appearances do make a difference. People think New Jersey is full of ugly chemical complexes, because smoke-belching plants are all they see as they travel the turnpike. Compare that to the impression people have as they drive the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, which passes a number of industrial complexes. Thanks to the landscaped screening, motorists come away with a better image. If the commissioners fumble something this simple, how are they going to tackle the complex stuff?

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