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I-68 in Maryland - Statement by Martin Weiss

A statement by Martin Weiss, Team Leader, National Systems and Economic Development Team, Office of Interstate and Border Planning, FHWA.

In early May 2005, I visited the corridor in company with State and local officials.

The visit served two purposes. The first; was to thank and recognize the cooperation of government and non-government officials in the I-68 study that is available at: (hence, that work will be referred to as the I-68 study).

The second; was to get a first hand look at the corridor. Part of the context of this second purpose was that the I-68 study methodology resulted in a narrative that could be interpreted as pessimistic regarding economic development in the region. For example, it was easy to, simply by accessing data from the internet, look at employment statistics and conclude that employment was only very slowly growing in Allegany County[i].

However, it is difficult to understand the potential for new development without actually getting a first hand look. Although there is no completely objective way to look at what would have happened to this corridor without I-68, one method of addressing the 'what would have happened' question is by talking with local officials in the context of a first hand look. This is subjective. Nonetheless, it is informed by people with a depth of local knowledge and it allows reference to 'on the ground' reality that would not show up in employment or other statistics for a number of years.

It is clear from both discussion and first hand observation that the area has, for some time, been adapting to the recent change in the national economy. This adaptation has sometimes been painful and was, in part, contemporaneous with the staged construction of I-68 between 1965 and 1991. Large industrial companies have closed production and testing operations in the corridor. Second of all, it is clear that some companies have stayed and some new companies have come in to the corridor.

Note: All images below were taken in early May 2005 unless otherwise noted.

Deer Park Hotel

The original Deer Park Hotel, long a tourist destination in the late 19th and early 20th Century, has had its front facade replicated as part of a downtown Oakland (21 miles South of I 68) revitalization program. The replica anchors several retail and tourist shops, as well as the Garrett County Historical Society.

Industrial park tenant sign.

This shows the tenants in Central Garrett Industrial Park, which is about 9 miles from I-68 just off US 219. One of these companies, Phenix Technologies, was hiring at the time of the image.

Penn Alps Restaurant

Penn Alps Restaurant on US 40 less than 1 mile from I-68 in Garrett County has been in business since about 1900 but has continued to upgrade as the customer base increased. The area near the restaurant now contains a variety of exhibits and stores. A substantial portion of this increase in customers is thought to be due to the existence of I-68.

Photo of an office building behind hedges and a parking lot.

This building on Willowbrook Road in Cumberland is the former headquarters of Kelly-Springfield Tire Company. It is located less than 2 miles from I-68 and MD Route 51. Now owned by the Western Maryland Health System, administrative and billing personnel are housed there. Spherix, a subsidiary of BioSpherix, is a tenant. It employs more than 300 people in its call center operation. Before Spherix took occupancy in this building in 2004, it had a location in a county-owned multi-tenant building on Bedford Road, less than 1 mile from I-68.

Photo of the entrance driveway to a factory.

HunterDouglas Corporation, which manufactures window shades, is located in the North Branch Industrial Park. The park was once home to PPG, but now houses about a dozen industrial-related companies, along with the Federal Correctional Institution. HunterDouglas is one of a handful of Allegany county companies that, in 2005, announced plans for building and employment expansions.

Photo of a flag in a parking lot.

The Upper Potomac Industrial Park of US 220 is about 2 miles from I-68. About 100-150 jobs are located here involving back office operations for children's clothing and a business, which provides services for uniforms, linens and related products.

Some of the employers in the corridor are technology related. These include employers in the sophisticated industries involving military equipment and electrical transmission. Employers of this kind are highly sought after. Both employers pictured immediately below expect increases in employment.

Photo of Phenix Technologies sign with an industrial park in the background.

Central Garrett Industrial Park is about 9 miles from I-68 just off US 219 (an image showing all the employers is in the previous section). Phenix Technologies makes high voltage, high current and high power test systems and components.

Photo of entry to ABL

ABL Complex as seen from WV956 (image taken by ABL security personnel). It is about one mile from US 220 and about 6 miles from I-68 just across the MD/WV line in WV. Four employers use the complex. The largest employer makes components for the US Armed Forces.

One employment sector that is, in some communities, considered undesirable is the corrections industry. A variety of buildings with corrections related activities are located in the corridor and new ones are being built. A number of people pointed out to me that the existence of I-68 makes this concentration of facilities in the corrections industry (and the employment that goes with it) possible. There are some parts of Maryland that would object strongly to housing these kinds of activities in their area and the fact that they are sited near Cumberland indirectly benefits the rest of the State in this respect. A number of other manufacturing businesses are also in the general vicinity of these facilities.

Photo of a parking lot with a prison in the background.

Under construction is the North Branch Correctional Institution a maximum-security corrections facility for the State of Maryland. It is on US 220 and about 4 miles from I-68. It neighbors an existing medium security prison.

Sign saying "Trophy"

Brunswick Family Boat Center near Federal Correctional Institution manufactures Bayliner Boats.

Federal Prison Center sign with prison in the background.

Federal Correctional Institution, includes a training center for administrative and security personnel is about 8 miles from I-68 using MD Route 51 access. The prison (not shown) houses medium security male offenders. The prison camp (shown above) is for minimum-security inmates.

The corridor has numerous tourism related resources and these resources are aggressively marketed. Some have existed for years, some have been improved over the past few years and some are being planned or implemented at the current time. At the time of this trip, Garrett County has had a steadily increasing tax base. This was due mostly to real estate tax paid from new buildings near Deep Creek Lake that are related to tourism. Allegany County has not yet seen much of this kind of development.

photo of cut in Sidling Hill

Sideling hill, in western Washington County, looking West from pedestrian overpass. It is on I-68. There are geology, wildlife, history, etc. exhibits in a building on the westbound side of I-68. The building has tourism related brochures for Allegany and Garrett counties. Locals refer it to as "The Cut". More information and other images of this are available online thru the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Photo of the lodge from across the lake at Rocky Gap State Park

Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort. It has an exit off I-68. It employs over 300 people in the busiest part of the year. The Lodge is adjacent to Rocky Gap State Park and has 217 rooms. The resort was the first site in the nation to have a public Jack Nicklaus golf course. (There are many private ones.)

Photo of Englanders Grill

Englander's Grill in downtown Oakland at 2nd and Alder streets, in Garrett County, is about 21 miles from I-68. It has a 1950s style fountain restaurant that has been in continuous operation since that time. It also features consignment antique sales and is regionally recognized as a tourism asset.

Photo of a red car on US 219 driving past Bear Creek

Bear Creek Trading Post is 13 miles south of I 68 near Deep Creek Lake on US 219. It has been expanding every year since about 2000. The Post has a number of upscale and moderate priced retail stores.

Photo of a wooden covered footbridge

This structure (a covered pedestrian bridge) leads to a variety of artisan and specialty shops at the Penn Alps area on US 40 less than a mile from I-68 in Garrett County.

Photo of old railroad station in Cumberland, MD

Canal Place is both the eastern terminus of the Maryland Scenic railroad and the western terminus of the C&O canal bike path. Construction of a recreated operating canal section was in process at time of visit. A small (portions of city blocks), artist colony has been established nearby. More information and additional images are available online at through Canal Place.

aerial photo of I-68

Looking west along I-68 from near the summit of Big Savage Mountain at the highest point of Allegany County about 2 miles east of the Garrett County line. See additional note.

photo of lit church steeples

In 1995 Cumberland initiated the "Light the Steeples" campaign as a civic celebration. It has attracted tourists. David Rotruck, a local resident, took this image in Spring 2003. The bridge in the foreground carries I-68. Ms. Anna Custer, Executive Director of the Greater Cumberland Committee, provided it to FHWA.

Virtually every person I spoke to indicated that without I-68, none of the positive developments in the corridor would have taken place and, in fact, there would likely have been more business closings, there would be fewer tourism based developments and the State's investments in educational infrastructure (e.g., at Frostburg State University[ii]) would have been less likely.

photo of the laboratory taken thru a stand of trees

The Appalachian Laboratory of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science is a part of the University of Maryland and housed at Frostburg State University. The building, which was completed in 1998, is partly funded by a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the State Highway Administration. It is about 1 mile from I-68 and about 8 miles north of Cumberland in Allegany County.

There are a number of new developments or pending developments in the corridor of note. In both Garrett County and Allegany County this includes companies in the wood products industry.

photo of a 4-lane road with a long, low white factory in the background.

American Woodmark (kitchen cabinets) opened in January 2005. As of the time of the image, it had about 125 employees and expects to ramp up to 500 within 5 years. It is on US 220, about 5 miles from I-68. The company that owns this plant in Allegany County is planning to open a plant in Garrett County in 2006 in the Keysers Ridge Industrial Park directly beside I-68.

Photo of the sidewalk leading to the information center.

The Garrett Information Enterprise Center, a 20,000 sq ft technology business incubation facility that opened in 2002, supports the growth and development of technology focused businesses in Garrett County. Located on the Garrett College campus approximately 14 miles south of I-68, the Center is home to 12 companies, and helps the County diversify its economy, supplementing the traditional agricultural, natural resources and tourism/hospitality business base.

Photo of a field and a street sign.

Closet Maid Drive, in Northern Garrett Industrial Park, is the future location of a manufacturing/ distribution facility for Closet Maid Corp, an international producer of closet and room storage systems. The company acquired the site in 2001, and plans construction in 2006. A major factor in selecting Garrett County for this facility was its excellent highway access, particularly I-68.

Architects drawing of a medical center.

A medical health center is planned for an area near the building occupied by Spherix Corporation shown above. Planning has been done by the Western Maryland Health System. Ms Anna Custer of the Greater Cumberland Committee provided this image. As of July 2006, construction is planned for completion in 2008. The building will have about 600,000 sq ft of space. The complex has the potential to create a dynamic health center with considerable job creation possibility. The health care industry in Allegany County acknowledges it needs more doctors to serve the existing population.

On the general issue of 'what the immediate future looks like', one person with whom I spoke was Casper R. Taylor, former Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates (who is also quoted in the I-68 study). He predicts that in the near future, both Garrett and Allegany Counties will be removed from the State of Maryland's designation of distressed counties. He attributes this substantially to the existence of I-68. He also noted that economic development groups are working to improve a North-South route through these two counties and that such additional access was needed to fully realize the benefits of I-68iii.

In conclusion, the beneficial economic development effects of I-68 may have been understated by the I-68 corridor report. Employment and population trends in 2005-2008 or so need to be examined to more fully understand the impact of I-68 on the local economy.

Appendix 1

Allegany County Employment Picture

Date Unemployment
Workforce # Unemployed Comments
March 2005 7.1% 34,131 2,407 Because of seasonal effects, March is a relatively high unemployment month*
2004 6.1% 34,095 2,082  
2002 6.1% 32,189 1,951 Best year on record
1992 13.3% 33,445 4,457  
1982 14.1%      

Garrett County Employment Picture

Date Unemployment
Workforce # Unemployed Comments
March 2005 7.3% 13,887 1,013 Because of seasonal effects, March is a relatively high unemployment month**
2004 5.9% 13,170 781 Best year on record
2002 7.0% 13,754 964  
1992 11.6%      
1982 17.9%      

These figures are taken from a Maryland labor statistics site and are based on a somewhat different definition of employment than the figures in the I-68 corridor study. Ms. Custer makes the point that the unemployment rate has substantially decreased since I-68 was fully opened to traffic.

*In June 2005, the unempolyment rate was 6.4%.
**In June 2005, the unempolyment rate was 4.6%.

Additional note referring to the image taken from near the top of Savage Mountain above:

According to work done by regional historian and author Al Feldstein, Savage Mountain was named for a member of a surveying party that was sent to the area in 1736 by King George II. Their purpose was to determine the boundary of land under the governance of Lord Fairfax and to locate the headwaters of the Potomac River. The expedition, after battling two snowstorms was running out of provisions. According to some accounts John Savage, whose eyesight was beginning to fail, volunteered to be the provisions. However, new provisions arrived just in time (or according to some, a group of wild turkeys were used). The surveyors recognized Mr. Savage's near sacrifice by naming the raging river flowing near the camp for him. The mountains then took their name from the river, as did a community at the foot of the mountain.

[i] The appendix shows information on employment provided by Ms. Anna Custer, Executive Director of the Greater Cumberland Committee (a group with economic development interests

[ii] Allegany County has a business incubator at Frostburg State University. In the first 6 months of operation it acquired 4 tenants and 25 jobs.

[iii] Ms. Custer made essentially the same point independently.

Updated: 05/04/2012
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