Fred Appel had been complaining of chest pains ever since they opened the new highway bypassing his Appeltree Inn in August.

"The doctor told me I'm a perfect physical specimen," Appel, 49, said after a visit to his physician last week. But the pain won't go away.

For Fred Appel, a retired Air Force master sergeant who flew with five U.S. presidents as a flight steward based in Washington, is a victim of progress.

His Rte. 40 restaurant and tavern, which used to do $1,400 in business daily, face extinction.

"The day before yesterday, we sold not one sandwich," he said. "Yesterday, we sold $3.85 in food."

It's axiomatic: People and prosperity follow the highway. Bypasses hurt businesses off the beaten path.

So it has been on old U.S. Rte. 40, itself a bypass of an earlier route, as it ascends 1,760-foot-high Sideling Hill on the Washington County-Allegany County line, since a 4 1/2-mile segment of superhighway U.S. 48 opened to traffic.

Two fruit stands have shut down. Business at Charlie Stotler's service station has plummeted from $1,400 to $200 a day. Things have slowed down so much here that a sign tells visitors to "please sound horn" if they want service at McCusker's Phillips 66 station; otherwise, Aura McCusker would just as soon stay next door at her house.

With the opening of the new segment here, Rte. 48 -- also known as the "National Freeway" and envisioned for years as the key to economic salvation for Western Maryland -- is finally nearing completion.

For years, it had looked as though the road would never be built. State transportation funds were earmarked for urban subways and little or nothing was left to complete the Western Maryland project. Then, this year, not long after a new transportation secretary took office, the money was suddenly there.

After prolonged battles over routes and alignments, all that remains to be settled is the path of the so-called "missing link," a 19.1-mile stretch east of Cumberland.

Then, promoters of the highway hope, Western Maryland will blossom, as industry and jobs generated by the route cure the region's chronic economic depression.

At a hearing in a Cumberland high school last week, the theme was echoed by Calvin E. Beeman, a local resident who implored state officials, "Help us to help ourselves and the economy of Western Maryland so that this will no longer be a depressed area, but a place where our children can find jobs, new businesses might come, and people might prosper as we did in the '40s."

The dream of prosperity tied to transportation is an old one, dating back to the country's beginnings, when banks financed a road to Cumberland and the federal government built the original National Road to, and beyond, the Ohio River valley.

Towns and businesses along the road grew and prospered from the traffic, then withered and died as new alignments replaced old ones.

Then, in 1941, came the Pennsylvania Turnpike to challenge the National Road, renamed U.S. Rte. 40, in Maryland. When Interstate 70 twisted northwesterly and crossed the Mason-Dixon line above Hancock, the drop in truck traffic, especially, was palpable.

But, still, the motorists came, for the fall foliage, for deer hunting, for skiing and for summer forays to Deep Creek Lake. Only now, they bypass the businesses that used to flourish on Sideling Hill.

A "Road Closed" sign hung at the cutoff to the old highway for several days after the new one opened. Eventually, the international symbols for food and gas appeared instead, but by then, business was nil.

Meanwhile, even Aura McCusker marveled at the 360-foot deep cut in the mountain.

"Anyone who doesn't drive across it is really missing something," she said. "It's very scenic, and the colors of the rocks, it's unbelievable."

But what took nature millions of years to create, man blasted asunder in just a matter of months, leaving a deep cleft in the mountain.

"Esthetically, it's horrible," observed state Sen. Victor Cushwa (D-Washington County), no foe of the highway. "It's one of the deepest cuts in North America."

Several miles east of Hancock, the cut appears in the distance as an ugly notch in the mountain, a north-south ridge reaching into Pennsylvania. The sharp slopes of the cut are bare of trees, but close up their wave-like layers of rock reveal a geological cross-section of the ages.

Ascending the gentle grade from the east, travelers are treated to an impressive mountain view unlike any seen on the old road, which involves a steeper climb and a hairpin switchback.

It's a panorama that makes John True, the state inspector on the job, marvel, "It's sort of fantastic, isn't it?"

Francis Keeney, a retired state employe from Cumblerland who is known as "Mr. National Freeway," for his staunch support of the road, is less than ecstatic, however.

"They say the cut is beautiful. I think it's a magnificant work of man, but nature did the job millions of years ago," he said. "They could have put the highway through the natural gorge of the Potomac River."

There, he said, lies the abandoned roadbed of the Western Maryland Railroad, and the overgrown prism of the C&O Canal, now a national park. "In a sense, surface transportation is the heritage of this area," he said.

Fred Appel, for one, was for the road -- in the abstract.

"I'm a Cumberlander, originally," he said, but, like many others in the Fort Hill High School class of 1954, he had to leave town to find work. "I thought it would help this area. At the same time, I thought they would take my business and I could relocate."

When that didn't happen, Appel garnered 1,500 signatures on petitions to the state seeking relief. The state has replied, not with monetary damages and relocation money Appel sought, but with a promise to "investigate the feasibility" of opening a ramp from the new highway to the old on the west side of Sideling Hill. This would permit travelers to detour and return to U.S. Rte. 48.

But even if that happens, the Appeltree Inn may face the fate of other businesses that once catered to east-west traffic on what is now "Scenic 40," an older route that climbs over Town Hill and Green Ridge.

"We were real busy before they changed the road, that's for sure," said Gladys Shipway, 76, who, with her husband, operated a restaurant on Green Ridge along the old aligment west of Sideling Hill.

The new Rte. 40, which is soon to be bypassed again, came through in 1963, and the restaurant, dependent on local business, closed in June 1974, after her husband died. The restaurant and an abandoned gas station and motel across the way are still there, silent testimony to times gone by.

"Maybe it wasn't right," Gladys Shipway said of the new highway that left her business behind, "but it was just one of those things."