Route 97 Realignment May Be Derailed To 2015 Residents Takes Sides On Necessity Of Work

November 04, 1990

Depending on where you live, Carroll County plans to realign Route 97 in South Carroll are either long overdue or downright silly.

Carroll County planners outlined the project Thursday night before more than 50 residents at South Carroll High.

Linda Wagner, one of those residents who live along Route 97, said something needs to be done to relieve heavy traffic on the road.

"I can't get (across the road to get) my mail," she said. "If you'd come down to my house during rush hour you'd see we do need this road."

But Rolling Hills resident Charlotte Pitarra, whose home sits near a bend in the proposed new alignment, has a different view.

"If this thing goes through, I'm going to start a bed and breakfast on that curve because they (Route 97 motorists) will be sleeping on my back porch and having breakfast in my kitchen," she said. "I think it's highway robbery."

Such are the differences of opinion on the realignment plan, which has been the subject of much discussion lately. And much confusion, county planners say.

The realignment has been part of the county's master plan since the late '60s, but likely won't become reality for up to 15 years, said County Commissioner Jeff Griffith, who conducted Thursday's meeting.

But a winding stretch of the road in South Carroll must be reworked eventually, Griffith and county planners said, to better accommodate projected traffic volumes and to give motorists an adequate route to Interstate 70.

Most of the new route would lie several hundred feet to the east of the current Route 97. It would stretch from Old Liberty Road south to Hood's Mill Road, where it would jog to the west of the existing road and continue to the Carroll border with Howard County.

Though the plan has been on the books for almost three decades, it has received little notoriety until recently. In fact, any plan involving South Carroll road improvements has triggered alarm because of acrimony over a recent state plan to build a new road linking Route 97 and Route 32.

Residents in Carroll and Howard counties responded with outrage when they learned of a State Highway Administration project to study the connector road. Preliminary work identified three possible routes for the road -- two in Howard and one in Carroll -- that would disrupt existing homes.

After prolonged outcry by residents and elected officials opposed to the project, Gov. William Donald Schaefer pulled the plug on the study last month.

But because of how the study was handled -- residents and Carroll administrators said they were never properly informed of the study -- people have become suspicious of any road project that arises.

A lot of people mistakenly believed that the county's intention to realign Route 97 was somehow linked with the state plan, said Carroll planner Gregg Horner.

Moreover, some residents said they were told by state planners that Carroll administrators were behind the connector road plan.

Thursday's meeting was organized to clear up confusion, Griffith said, and to underscore that the county was averse to the state plan, should it ever resurface.

"It's absolutely inconsistent with our master plan and would upset something we've been trying to do for over 20 years," said Griffith, who was joined at the meeting by Commissioner Julia W. Gouge.

Many residents seem generally agreeable to the Route 97 realignment plan. They're more worried about a revival of the state's connector road project.

"The governor doesn't support that plan, and your local officials don't support it," Griffith said. "I don't think that plan ever is going to materialize."

Unlike the state's connector road idea, the county's Route 97 plans were designed to have a minimum impact on existing homes, Griffith said. For many years, the county has been buying up land that would be needed for the project and discouraging development in or near the 300-foot right of way.

That's not to say the new route won't pass close to homes that are not near a major road today. And that's why some residents -- particularly Rolling Hills residents -- turned out to register their complaints about the project.

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