On May 31 I attended a public hearing in Bowie on the Washington eastern bypass. In the exhibit area, members of the Maryland State Highway Administration and some of their consultants tried to convince me that a bypass would be the best thing since sliced bread -- until they found out that I was from the Eastern Shore. Then they became mysteriously tight-lipped.
I soon found out why.
It seems the bypass study excluded areas from Anne Arundel County east to Delaware, including my county, Queen Anne's. Further, not one elected official from the areas excluded by the study was at the hearing to look out for my and my neighbors' concerns.
But that doesn't mean that there was no opposition to the bypass at the hearing. Three Anne Arundel County delegates, a member of the Anne Arundel County Council and a Prince George's state senator opposed a bypass for reasons including the amount of available federal funds for the project and its environmental and social impact. But it was a Charles County resident who summed up the bypass -- and the reasons for opposing it -- best, when he called it a "developers' corridor."
The bypass, which will come off Route I-95 in Virginia's Caroline County, pass through Charles County to Prince George's and into Bowie, will have 72 interchanges. With 72 interchanges, not much is bypassed. Definitely not the condos that will likely pop up nearby.
Bypass advocates assure the public that the road's "environmental impact will be at a minimum." But a six- to 12-lane highway with 72 interchanges that passes through state parks, farmlands and wetlands will not have a "minimum" effect. To quote Del. Marsha Perry's testimony at the hearing, with projects such as this bypass, "Maryland is an endangered species."
A bypass, and all the development it would inevitably bring, will threaten the farming and fishing industries in Queen Anne's as well as residents' peaceful way of life. Highway officials say that bypass traffic will come up to I-595 (now Route 50) and proceed to Annapolis I-97 to I-95 via the Baltimore Beltway. At the same time, though, they admit that Delaware is upgrading its roads in anticipation of more traffic. Why? Because of Route 301, which goes right through Queen Anne's. More traffic on Route 301 will mean more accidents, more backups at the Bay Bridge, more pollution and higher taxes because of the need for more police and fire services.
If Maryland wants to really improve its transportation system, it should think about mass transport to shuttle weekend Ocean City traffic and weekday commuter traffic to Washington and Baltimore and back. Such a system would reduce traffic dramatically and cut air pollution and highway run-off. It would also reduce highway fatalities. And, because it could be run down the center of Route 50, no extra rights-of-way would be needed. Moreover, the environmental impact genuinely would be "at a minimum." Such a system would pay for itself, thus eliminating the need for higher taxes to upgrade highways.
Unfortunately, Maryland officials are showing signs of giving short shrift to some of the impact issues associated with a bypass; despite public opposition, the Free State may be getting an eastern bypass. If that happens, citizens in Queen Anne's and in other counties must be prepared -- through zoning laws and aggressive efforts to obtain state services -- to repel the developers.
-- David E. Campbell is a candidate for Queen Anne's County Commissioner.