Holiday road woes

June 29, 2006

About 665,000 Marylanders are expected to join the nearly 41 million Americans who will travel more than 50 miles from their homes this extended July 4 holiday weekend. And according to AAA, four-fifths of these people will choose to head out to their destinations by automobile. That means that about 10 percent of the entire U.S. population may collectively experience firsthand the modern-day algorithm that while the distance between Point A and Point B may be the shortest, it's not always the fastest.

If you're among these temporary transients traveling, say, anywhere randomly north, south, east or west, chances are excellent that you'll grow fairly familiar with the various styles that carmakers favor in how they design the rear ends of their automobiles.

Get used to it. Gridlock and rolling backups are as much a part of our lives as junk mail and cell phone ringtones. Want to see the future of driving conditions in most of Maryland? Just look through your windshield today. At any given moment, the State Highway Administration is overseeing dozens of road projects designed to alleviate congestion, make driving conditions safer or, in not a few instances, create new roads that, in time, will offer more of the same gridlock but with different views out the side windows.

Want the state to do more? Consider this: Of the top 20 SHA projects kicking up dust, the least expensive is a bridge that should come in just under $21 million. That's pocket change compared with the projected $2.4 billion Intercounty Connector that, if it ever is built, will link Gaithersburg to Interstate 95. Dare we even peer through the pipeline far enough to see construction of a third Chesapeake Bay bridge? Not that we think a third span is inevitable - a system of car and passenger ferries might be better - but the price tag could dwarf the cost of the ICC. And then there's the proposal to build a new bridge over Assawoman Bay so Ocean City beachgoers don't have to use the old U.S. 50 structure that has served vacationers for almost five decades.

The list goes on. Everywhere you drive this weekend, you'll see roads that could stand major improvements. Are you willing to pay for them? Decisions about how Marylanders will travel in years to come - to work and to July 4 destinations - are far more serious than some of the political noise candidates have been making lately. If they're ready to change the subject, we're ready to listen.

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