The State of Maryland wants to build an inter-county connector, but federal agencies are already objecting to the alignment the state proposes, suggesting a more northern alternative. Both plans, however, are really a violation of common sense.

The state wants a divided four-lane highway that would run 18 miles from I-370 at Shady Grove southeast to a point on U.S. Route 1 south of Laurel; the two segments for which it already has funding add up to only 10.2 miles and carry a hefty price tag of $140 million.

The state highway department's plan for building this road will mean covering miles of woodland, parkland and rural residential area with asphalt. Why do this, when the same purpose could be accomplished sooner, cheaper and easier if Maryland opted to simply connect the eastern end of Route 28 with the west end of Route 198 -- a distance of about 2 miles?

Route 28 and Route 198 already run in a roughly east-west direction along the same latitude. Between Route 355 in downtown Rockville and Route 97 at Norbeck, Route 28 is already a divided highway of four to six lanes; the same is true of Route 198 between Burtonsville (Route 29) and I-95 at Laurel.

East of Laurel, Route 198 is already being widened into Anne Arundel County and Fort Meade, where it intersects with Route 32, also known as the new "Patuxent Freeway." When the Patuxent Freeway is completed, it will reach to the new Route I-97, which in turn joins Route 50 outside of Annapolis, which leads to the Bay Bridge, the Eastern Shore, and so on.

West of Rockville, Route 28 has already been widened from I-270 westward for several miles and then extends through western Montgomery County into Frederick County. There it connects with roads that can take traffic north toward Frederick or south toward the Leesburg area of Virginia.

The point is obvious. Both Route 28 and Route 198 are major highways that already link Maryland's centers of population and business. Connecting the two roads would create a true inter-county connector instead of an expensive 18-mile stub.

State and local authorities already have most of a usuable infrastructure in place for the expansion of these two roads -- rights-of way, road-base, culverts, bridges, etc. -- which could curtail costs and cause far less environmental impact than the present plan or the plan suggested by the federal government.

Further, the Route 28-Route 198 connector could be put into use without any immediate change to the existing portions of the roads. Two-lane segments between Rockville and Burtonsville could be widened and improved as needed. In addition to mitigating the environmental impact of Maryland's proposed connector, the millions of dollars that could be saved by following the Route 28-198 plan could be turned toward building bypasses around Rockville and Laurel, thus bringing some relief to their already congested downtowns.

Think about it, a plan that costs less, takes less time and causes less disruption to the environment -- the State of Maryland obviously hasn't.

-- Richard S. Relac