ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan on Friday morning told a coalition from Allegany and Garrett counties that he will put the needs of Western Maryland at the top of his priority list, something he says is a change from the previous governor’s administration.
“People in Western Maryland really felt a huge disconnect between where you live and what happens in Annapolis,” Hogan said during a breakfast meeting for the advocacy group Positive Attitudes Change Everything, also known as PACE in Annapolis. “There was a feeling that there was a war on rural Maryland and I want you to know that at 12 o’clock on Wednesday, that war has come to an end.”
PACE is a coalition designed to interact with state government officials about issues concerning Allegany and Garrett counties. The group’s main agenda includes transportation and infrastructure, economic development, tourism, education and natural resources. PACE relies on sponsorships and donations from citizens and community leaders for financial support.
A principal initiative of PACE is the North/South Appalachian Highway project. The project aims to connect U.S. Route 219 at I-68 north to U.S. Route 220 at I-68 south, but the State Highway Administration has yet to determine the direct route, according to Brenda Smith, executive director of The Greater Cumberland Committee.
This would create 20,000 construction jobs and 10,000 permanent jobs in the region of Western Maryland, the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania and the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia, Smith said.
U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, who also spoke at the breakfast, agreed that the North/South Highway is the most important priority for transportation in Western Maryland. Tourism is also on the group’s priority list, and Cardin highlighted the region as a draw for visitors, with popular walking and biking trails.
Smith said she feels inspired by Hogan’s comments on Western Maryland and is optimistic he can come through for the region.
“I don’t think you can be anything but hopeful when you’ve been as far down as we’ve been,” Smith said.
Community leaders appeared encouraged by the new, Republican governor’s remarks and his position on the issues concerning Western Maryland, a largely Republican stronghold in the majority blue state of Maryland. The legislature’s Western Maryland delegation includes members from Allegany, Garrett, Carroll, Frederick and Washington counties.
“(I am) more confident than I was six months ago,” said J. Robert Smith, PACE’s Allegany County co-chair. “I think the governor knows where Western Maryland is. … We’ve been heard.”
Others in attendance include Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat; and state Senator George Edwards, Allegany, Garrett and Washington, and state Delegates Jason Buckel, Allegany, Mike McKay, Washington, and Wendell Beitzel, Garrett and Allegany, all Republicans.