3 Md. road projects rated among most wasteful in U.S.

SHA says it's too soon to judge value of plans

April 28, 1999|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

Three Maryland highway projects rank among the 50 most wasteful in the nation, according to a report released today by a Washington-based taxpayer advocacy group.

Taxpayers for Common Sense weighed cost, sprawl and damage to the environment in singling out the projects, which were nominated by community groups around the country.

All of the Maryland projects are on the drawing board: Montgomery County's Inter-County Connector, the expansion of U.S. 219 in Garrett County, and the Waldorf bypass in Charles County.

Topping the national list as most wasteful is a proposed 100-mile, four-lane highway in the mountains of West Virginia that is expected to cost $1 billion and cut through the Monongahela National Forest and Civil War battlefields.

Many of the 50 projects were stalled for years until Congress passed a federal transportation bill last year authorizing a 40 percent increase in federal spending.

The group estimated the cost of the three Maryland projects at about $1.5 billion.

"I think the point, especially with the Inter-County Connector, is that this is an old idea," said Ralph DeGennaro, executive director of Taxpayers for Common Sense. "There are new ways to solve transportation problems that can cost less money and be better for the community."

A State Highway Administration spokeswoman said a decision has not been made on the Inter-County Connector, and the other two projects are being reviewed, with extensive studies still to be done.

"This group is doing what advocacy groups do -- jumping on an issue in advance," said SHA spokeswoman Valerie Burnette Edgar. "They are painting a picture different from what I would consider reality." She emphasized that the state is following Smart Growth policies and that it is too early for cost estimates on the U.S. 219 expansion and the Waldorf bypass.

The report said the ICC project, which is estimated to cost $1.1 billion and has been studied for more than two decades, would trigger suburban sprawl, requiring more infrastructure and public services. It would destroy dozens of homes, devalue thousands more, and destroy valuable forests and wetlands, the group said.

The U.S. 219 project, estimated to cost $240 million, has been discussed as a tool for economic development in rural Western Maryland for more than a decade.

SHA is studying possible corridors in the area between Grantsville and Cumberland. Whether the project would provide the economic stimulus some predict is unknown, but DeGennaro says the evidence is too questionable to justify the expense and environmental disruption.

The Waldorf bypass was proposed a decade ago to relieve traffic on U.S. 301 through Waldorf, but residents rejected the plan. The current proposal, estimated to cost $363 million, is similar, and DeGennaro said it should be rejected again to preserve the town's economic core. The bypass would divert traffic from U.S. 3 west at Brandywine in Prince George's County, and rejoin the highway at La Plata.

Pub Date: 4/28/99

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