Let's Put The Brakes On This $4.6 Billion Boondoggle

GETTING THERE

August 24, 2009|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,michael.dresser@baltsun.com

It's never too early to smother a really, really bad transportation project. These things take on a life of their own if they're allowed to progress too far, and before you know it you're being tossed out of your home so that folks who freely chose to live in outer suburbia can race home in congestion-free comfort to down their dinner a little earlier in the evening.

That's apparently the plan for 251 families who live along the Interstate 270 corridor in Montgomery and Frederick counties. According to a State Highway Administration newsletter, that's the number of "residential displacements" - transportation wonk-speak for kicking folks to the curb - it will require to widen I-270 to the $4.6 billion specifications of the Montgomery County Planning Board.

That's more than five times the number of homes that were seized for construction of the Inter-county Connector. That highway required only 47 hard-working, tax-paying Maryland families to be dragged from their hearths and cast into the treacherous waters of the suburban Washington real estate market with no more than the miserly checks foisted upon this by Big Government. For their I-270 scheme, these soul-less bureaucrats have cast a covetous eye on a quarter-thousand homes - many occupied by the frail elderly whose survival in the place of forced displacement would be jeopardized.

If I go any farther, I'm likely to do a full Glenn Beck, and you'll have teardrops oozing out of your paper and staining your hands with ink.

All hyperventilating aside, this is just one more reason to raise questions about the most expensive transportation project in Maryland history. I might seem to be beating on this issue a lot, but transportation officials are beginning to hear from regular folks who are concerned about this boondoggle. That's a good thing.

Some have suggested I've been raising needless alarm about a project that's way off in the future. Bunk. This project is so far off in the future that the Montgomery County Council will be taking it up next month - and the smart money is betting that it will fall in line behind the planning board and the developers and the Chamber of Commerce in support of a plan to add two express toll lanes in each direction from Shady Grove to Frederick. Once that ball gets rolling, it can pick up velocity in a hurry.

(Such a mighty project deserves a mighty name. Might I suggest the Maryland Sprawlway?)

Seriously, this is a project where it's difficult to count all the "bads." It's bad for Smart Growth, bad for the 268.6 acres of trees it would obliterate, bad for the Chesapeake Bay, bad for national energy policy, bad for the security of our country, bad for Baltimore, bad for Prince George's County, bad for much of Montgomery County, bad for people in Frederick County who don't want it to be the next Montgomery County, bad for the rational distribution of growth in our state, bad for Maryland toll facility customers if they aren't vigilant, bad for the state's transit future, bad for highway projects in other corners of the state and bad for the poor slobs whose homes lie in its path.

This project is the baddest.

It has been suggested that this column has been stoking regional division. Not so, I'm suggesting that Baltimore unite with its fellow jurisdictions around the state and stage a loving intervention to help Montgomery County get the asphalt monkey off its back.

Let's let the Montgomery Council (240-777-7900) know we're happy to help them with well-thought-out transit projects because we have similar needs here in Baltimore and a common interest in a healthy bay. Kindly explain that friends don't let friends blow $4.6 billion on an exercise in futility.

Ben Ross of the Action Committee for Transit has a detailed proposal for rail improvements in the I-270 corridor that could lessen dependence on single-passenger vehicles. Yes, some of his proposals have been rejected in the past, but in view of the inflated cost of new highway lanes, those ideas merit a second look. You can find it at actfortransit.org.

Among the advantages of transit projects is they aren't ravenous consumers of people's homes. The transit portion of the current I-270 project - known as the Corridor Cities Transitway - would cause fewer than 10 displacements. The proposed Red Line in Baltimore would take no homes at all.

So let's keep Grandma and Grandpa in their rocking chairs and out of the hands of these shadowy "residential displacement panels." If we're going to be pulling any plugs, let's start with the project that lusts after their homes.

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