MSHA’s Deforestation Program Continues

Efficiently provide mobility for our customers through a safe, well-maintained and attractive highway system that enhances Maryland’s communities, economy and environment. – Maryland State Highway Administration’s Mission Statement

Efficient, adjective: productive without waste

As part of the of $2,400,000,000 (current projections) of construction expense the Maryland State Highway Administration is spending to build the Inter-County Connector (the “ICC”), MSHA provides a regular newsletter to inform, assist, and engage the public during the ICC project. In the summer 2007 issue they proudly proclaim that they deal fairly with property owners whose homes they take, and that they carved out 370 million dollars to protect the environment. Neglected in this propaganda is announcing the impact to property owners whose homes they do not take but are adjacent to the project, and of course the acres and acres of old growth forest they will cut down for the highway and its adjoining environmental projects. It is difficult to overlook the salt they are rubbing in the wounds by peppering us with the PR campaign to heap praise on themselves.

However, the point of this message is to point out the contradiction in the Administration’s own mission statement and the project itself. We would remind everyone that the word “efficient” carries a clear meaning that a job is being done without waste, that the dollars being spent are being spent in the best way they could. Given that the state’s own report pointed out that the project will have a negligible impact on traffic, and does not tie the county to the rest of the state in the most direct route possible, and that billions of dollars of needed county transportation projects have been identified with no mechanism to pay for them, the ICC project goes against the mission statement of the very people that are hired to fulfill that mission statement.

To be complete, there are very powerful forces aligned in favor of the project. The county politicians are desperate for some solution to traffic, and the ICC plan is a convenient path to lay asphalt without having to think of a real solution. And, the Washington Post reported that many timely campaign contributions align with candidates’ position on the project. The engineers at MSHA live for a major project like the ICC – maintenance and improvement of the existing roads is not very exciting. The developer community is poised for new areas of the county opening up for sprawling subdivisions. And, the county’s control by a single political party offers little opportunity for both debate as well as public disclosure of planning. Frustrated drivers have little to argue with new roads being built, their anger leaving little time for thinking about the benefit to them of a 2.4 B$ driveway to a shopping center in Prince George’s county – and for a toll as well.

But in the end, county residents going to county jobs will still average 10 MHP as they spend almost an hour for what they thought was a local commute. Our elected leaders will still ask for new ideas and new task forces for a solution they promised us they already had. And, the ICC will eventually be justified as all the commuters that live on the other side of it use it since its the only road between them and wherever they need to go. What would have been nice would have been a comparison of the ICC project with Metro expansion, or some “Intra”-County Connector, or few more bridges connecting Maryland with Virginia, or some new vision on how to develop the county without sprawling sparse housing out past any ability to use roads for transportation.

Just a thought…discuss amongst yourselves.

(Next time: Root Cause Analysis)