Garrett County group takes aim at planned highway Officials, businesses support proposal for 5-state, 4-lane route

September 09, 1997|By Cindy Stacy | Cindy Stacy,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

OAKLAND -- Amid a growing clamor of political and business support, a proposal to build a four-lane divided highway across Garrett County as part of a five-state, U.S. 219 "international trade corridor" has gotten its first vocal opposition.

The road would not be built for years and no firm route has been established, but a preliminary estimate puts the cost at about $500 million. The project has also aroused fears of its impact on the mountainous county.

"We should not be duped by proponents of freeways and industry who have the most to gain from this insane 219 proposal," said Crede Calhoun, a Friendsville river rafter and photographer and one of about 20 people who last month formed the anti-highway Conservative Action for a Rural Environment (CARE).

Calhoun criticized the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce for its advocacy of the road and challenged its president, David Moe, to a public debate about the highway.

Local officials don't understand the sudden outcry, especially because municipalities and all of the county's economic and business development organizations have endorsed the highway concept.

Talk of a limited-access, north-south highway through Garrett has circulated for a quarter-century, and the road is included in the county's comprehensive development plan.

"The only new thing is the idea of an international trade corridor," said Del. George C. Edwards, a Garrett Republican who has long advocated a four-lane highway to better link the county seat of Oakland with Interstate 68 in the north. "And that's a congressional decision."

Congress will decide this fall how it will itemize a new batch of federal transportation money and whether funds will be made available for international trade corridors such as the U.S. 219 proposal.

The Chamber of Commerce has worked closely with the county's Economic Development Department, sponsoring a highway lob- bying trip to Washington in March as Garrett joined forces with the five-state coalition pushing for the road project.

The U.S. 219 trade corridor would begin at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, N.Y., and run 540 miles through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, where it would connect with Interstate 77 at Bluefield. It would create a corridor from Toronto to Miami.

"An improved north-south highway has been a historical goal of county leadership since the 1970s," said Moe, who is pushing the project to attract new business development and lower the county's 13 percent unemployment rate.

While no exact highway route has been established through Garrett, a likely one -- according to county officials -- would take it from Interstate 68 at Grantsville, across the Meadow Mountain region roughly following state Route 495, and connecting with U.S. 219 at a planned Oakland bypass expected to be completed in 10 years.

CARE members say their chief reason for raising a fuss is to get firm answers.

"We're talking about a highway going through Garrett County," said Dana Shimrock, a Garrett Community College librarian who heads the group's steering committee. "The people of the county need to be informed of what's happening. We don't want something of this magnitude without the input of the people."

Shimrock said she fears a highway would bring noise, pollution and "the exploitation of the natural beauty of our area."

She said the group is not against improvements to U.S. 219, such as bypasses around Oakland and the town of Accident that are approved and in the planning stage.

Calhoun and another CARE member, Oakland laborer Jamie Alvarez, said they want to preserve Garrett's natural quality of life without added highways and development.

Pub Date: 9/09/97

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