Western Md. pushes for interstate during talks with Cabinet

Officials want meeting with governors on north-south highway

September 17, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

FROSTBURG -- Western Maryland leaders urged Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday to convene a meeting of regional governors to rally support for a compromise route for a north-south interstate highway that officials here consider crucial to the prosperity of the region.

Members of a task force recently resolved a long-standing dispute between Garrett and Allegany counties over the preferred route for the highway. Their compromise route would run through both counties. Allegany and Garrett previously supported routes that bypassed the other jurisdiction.

The task force recommendation was one of a series of initiatives Western Maryland officials pushed as they met here yesterday with the governor's Cabinet. Among them was a call for the state to subsidize commuter airline service between Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Cumberland.

Administration officials were noncommittal.

Major F. Riddick Jr., the governor's chief of staff, said any summit would have to await the results of a state Department of Transportation study of the issue.

Riddick said the administration has no philosophical objections to the commuter airline subsidy, but would have to determine its cost and weigh the project against other transportation needs.

The proposed north-south interstate running through Western Maryland is a longtime goal of House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a Cumberland Democrat. He noted that the region's one-time prosperity was built on its position along the nation's first highways and railways, but that it was late in being connected to the interstate highway system.

"Our future depends on redeveloping our superior position in transportation to move people, to move goods, to move ideas," Taylor said.

The route proposed by the task force would run from Somerset, Pa., along U.S. 219 into Garrett County, head east to Cumberland along Interstate 68, then run through Allegany County along Route 53 and U.S. 220 into West Virginia. There it would connect with a new interstate -- known as Corridor H -- near Moorefield, W.Va.

The Maryland Department of Transportation will spend $600,000 in state and federal money over the next year to study the merits of such a highway and consider several routes. Transportation officials say there are some difficult hurdles for the project, but that it is too soon to predict whether the highway will be built.

Local leaders' ultimate goal is to have an interstate connection running as far north as Buffalo, N.Y. To bring that about, Western Maryland legislators and county commissioners sent Glendening a letter urging him to bring together the governors of Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia to seek agreement on a plan.

Taylor said the proposed interstate has enthusiastic support in West Virginia but has been stymied by Pennsylvania Rep. Bud Shuster, the powerful Republican who chairs the House committee that allocates highway funds.

Sun staff writer Marcia Myers contributed to this article.

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