OAKLAND — Residents and elected officials addressed concerns over the proposed Oakland bypass, a decrease in highway user funds and mass transit funding during the annual Maryland Department of Transportation tour held with the Garrett County commissioners Friday.
Debbie Worley of Mountain Lake Park read a letter from Terry Helbig of Helbig Insurance LLC concerning the bypass, which would relocate U.S. Route 219 from north of Oakland to state Route 135 (2.4 miles).
“For me, Terry and some of the other people in this room, the white elephant in this room is the proposed bypass,” said Worley.
Helbig indicated that he has been opposed to the bypass since the late 1970s.
“Someone will have to explain how it benefits business to substantially reduce traffic flow through a business district,” wrote Helbig. “The SHA (State Highway Administration) needs to make this project go away and that will enable (the) Winter property and adjoining properties and farms to be developed into housing.”
The Winter property is located at the top of Dennett Road and 10th Street, according to Worley.
Helbig suggested instead that SHA make upgrades to state Route 495 to divert commercial traffic away from the U.S. 219 corridor through Deep Creek Lake.
“When we originally talked about the proposed bypass, it was $42 million, and when we looked at asphalt, the cost of gas and everything else it went up to $100 million,” said Worley. “What a ridiculous waste of money.”
Dave Moe, coordinator for the North/South Appalachian Highway Coalition, noted that previous changes to routes in the city didn’t create a lack of business.
“A bypass creates an option for people to go around or through the town. They are not prohibited from coming through the town whatsoever,” said Moe. “The actual cost is not $100 million; the estimates are now $57 million, and that is probably because of the costs of materials increase.”
Dona Alvarez, an Oakland orthopedic surgeon, questioned why the project stayed active on SHA’s project list.
“The reason the proposed bypass is still there is because of the fact that we have already invested a lot of taxpayer money, time and effort into that,” said county commission Chairman Jim Raley. “Maybe in the future we may see a different need.”
Raley asked the status of the bypass project, noting that some land easements were bought.
“We are on hold; we aren’t doing any work on that at this point,” said Melinda Peters, SHA administrator. “It is still in the program listed but there is no funding allocated at this point going forward.”
Alvarez noted that she has been following the project closely and it appeared to be moving forward.
“It never ceases to amaze me how we are looking at this tiny timeline, then when you hit 80 percent, boom, it’s done,” said Alvarez. “We’ve got to back up and see the forest. We are still filling potholes with coal dust.”
Carolyn Corley, mayor of Loch Lynn, addressed concerns about the lack of highway user funds.
“We have really been suffering because of this highway user money that has been cut,” said Corley. “Loch Lynn has received less than half in five years than we used to get in one year. We buy a skid of coal mix to fill potholes. There is no way in the world we could even consider paving a road with the money that we have.”
Sen. George Edwards suggested that SHA look into another way to pay for mass transit instead of placing the burden on vehicle operators.
“We are the only major system in the country that doesn’t have a local mass transit tax,” said Edwards, who suggested the Transportation Trust Fund be capped.
The mass transit tax would provide new money that could go toward paying for roads and bridges, said Edwards.
Allegany and Garrett counties are both making the North/South 219 project their No. 1 priorities, according to Moe.
“We have committed our No. 1 project to be the North/South 219 project,” said Raley.
Contact Elaine Blaisdell at firstname.lastname@example.org.