Cost To Keep Montgomery 'Vibrant' Seems A Bit Much


July 27, 2009|By Michael Dresser

Most days I try to play the role of neutral Maryland reporter, but every once in a while an alter ego named Baltimore Guy breaks out.

Baltimore Guy isn't worried about what's good for the whole state. When you talk about spending public money, he wants to know what's in it for Baltimore.

Anyway, news about a proposal to spend $4.6 billion to widen a road between Montgomery and Frederick counties got Baltimore Guy's attention. He has a few questions for the folks who want to spend a record amount on a project few Baltimoreans are likely to use.

It's not like Baltimore Guy resents every roundabout built in Montgomery or traffic light installed in Frederick, but money like that -- even if it's partly provided by tolls - could fill all the potholes on Patapsco Avenue and have change left over.

Baltimore Guy was struck by some of the reasons being given for spending all those simoleons. One quote that caught his eye was from Montgomery County Council President Phil Andrews, who said: "The argument will be made that the I-270 corridor is the economic engine of the state and the state has an interest in continuing to see that's the case."

Here's what Baltimore Guy wants to know:

What interest does Baltimore have in the I-270 corridor remaining the economic engine of the state forever? If it's going to cost $4.6 billion to keep that engine purring, should Maryland be looking for a trade-in somewhere else? Maybe Baltimore?

Even if we grant that some high-tech business executives love the idea of being close to the National Institutes of Health and all their fellow geniuses in and around Rockville, isn't Interstate 95 about to get much closer to I-270? Isn't that what the $2.6 billion Inter-County Connector was supposed to be about?

Why not steer some of those jobs into someplace more accessible to folks in Baltimore, such as Laurel, Beltsville or Columbia? Or to transit-oriented development around BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport? Wasn't making BWI accessible to Montgomery part of the rationale for building the ICC? Will the ICC be a one-way street?

Baltimore Guy was also struck by a quote from Lisa Fadden, vice president for public affairs at the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce: "The bottom line for people in Baltimore is that people in Baltimore and around the state will benefit from a vibrant Montgomery County. ... When a company comes to Montgomery County, that means major tax dollars for the state."

Begging your pardon, ma'am, but Baltimore Guy wants to know whether Montgomery couldn't benefit from Baltimore or Prince George's or Anne Arundel being more vibrant. Do you want to keep being Baltimore's ATM, as another Montgomery advocate described the relationship?

You see, to Baltimore Guy it sounds like Fadden is saying only Montgomery has what it takes to attract high-tech companies. Is Montgomery telling us we have to spend $4.6 billion to attract more growth to an already traffic-saturated corridor because the rest of Maryland is chopped liver?

It's not that Baltimore Guy doesn't sympathize. He's been in traffic jams on I-270 and he knows how bad they can get.

But Baltimore Guy is wondering whether all those folks who decided to move to upper Montgomery County or to those McMansions in Frederick County didn't know what they were getting into when they decided to live so far from Washington. If they hated long commutes, why didn't they choose to live closer in, maybe in a smaller house with a smaller yard, and take the Metro? If they wanted someplace affordable, why didn't they move to Baltimore and take the MARC train?

Baltimore Guy is also wondering whether that $4.6 billion would be well-spent. Let's say that Baltimore Guy takes a job in Rockville and is looking for a place to live. With congestion the way it is, there's no way he'd choose faraway Frederick County. But with those new lanes up and running on I-270, could ex-Baltimore Guy decide that living in bucolic Buckeystown has a Green Acres kind of appeal?

But if he does that, how many other folks will join him? How long before Frederick County is Mini-Me to Montgomery's Dr. Evil? How many years before I-270 at rush hour looks the way it does now only wider? If and when that happens, will Montgomery want more cash for a new asphalt fix?

Baltimore Guy isn't about nickel-and-diming other regions of Maryland, but when we're talking 46 billion dimes, he wants his legislators to get some answers. And they'd better not be answers with a snooty tone toward his city, because Baltimore Guy doesn't like that any more than he likes the Washington Redskins.

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