Gov. William Donald Schaefer said Saturday that county political leaders ought to make the decisions on how the state-proposed East-West Boulevard link between Ritchie Highway and Route 3 should be built.
"One lady came up and said, 'No road.' Another came up and said, "A two-lane highway,' " the governor said in an interview after a campaign stop Elvaton Park. "If the people are not interested in a four-lane highway, then it should not be put in.
"It is a local decision made by the county executive. Talk to Ted Sophocleus (Democratic county executive candidate) and see what he has to say."
Schaefer's remarks delighted residents who live near the proposed highway route, many of whom turned out Saturday, hoping Schaefer would come out against the controversial proposal.
"The governor left us knowing we have an issue and we're committed to it," said Bob O'Leary, spokesman for the Elvaton Improvement Association.
"If this issue comes to his desk, he'll see our faces and he'll see our park."
State highway officials are completing preliminary design work but have not yet decided how many lanes will be needed.
Although the boulevard was initially proposed as a two-lane neighborhood road, the State Highway Administration's ongoing study includes several four-lane high-speed alternatives.
Residents from Elvaton, parts of Severna Park and Millersville fear the road will destroy many homes and parks and attract more housing developments.
The governor's press secretary, Paul E. Schurick, said he doesn't believe people have fully made up their minds on what they want. "I don't think there is a consensus," he said. "It is a community and local government issue.
"It is important for the people to recognize that the governor is not sitting around deciding to build a road or a school. He is looking toward the local governments to present him with a list of priorities," Schurick said.
But O'Leary said the communities had won an important victory. "He (Schaefer) said exactly what we wanted him to say. Our position has always been it is a local issue. It is not a state decision. What the governor just said supports us."
However, Patty Williams, who lives on Woodland Road and could lose her home if the state builds a four-lane highway, wasn't so sure. She confronted the governor and asked him whether he supports construction of the road.
"He said he doesn't know anything about it," Williams said. "By this point he should have a stand on it. He was very uncommitted."
O'Leary said support among local politicians is strong. "We didn't want this to be a partisan issue, but the Republicans and the developers -- and you have to lump them together -- are not paying any attention to us."
He said Sophocleus has promised to set up a local task force to look at the East-West Boulevard proposal and determine if it really is needed.
Sophocleus, in turn, told the residents at the rally to keep in touch and keep the issue alive.
"We're not experts," he said. "I'm a pharmacist. That's what I do. If you want to know about aspirin, ask me. I'll tell you all you want to know.
Ask me about highways and I'm going to ask you. You have to live here every day of your life. I'm going to lean on you."