Residents ride bumps of road project

November 24, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of the Sun

An article in The Sun on Sunday incorrectly stated the amount Baltimore County paid Russell DeGraw for 300 square feet along Rossville Boulevard. The correct figure is $2,000.

The Sun regrets the error.

Russell DeGraw says the construction of a highway next to his Parkville home has given him a real-life civics lesson.

He's learned that if Baltimore County builds a highway near your home, it could mean cracks in the walls, the loss of a backyard fence and a daily parade of trucks rumbling through your neighborhood.

For Mr. DeGraw, who lives along the $5 million extension of Rossville Boulevard, the project has brought those problems and more.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION B

He has complained to his congressman, his county executive, his county councilman and his state representatives. But no one has been able to stop the steamrollers and other heavy equipment from shaking the earth as they roll by each day. Nor has anyone been able to clear the air of the soot that is a byproduct of highway construction.

"You learn a lot when you go through something like this," he said wryly. "Not all of it's good."

County officials say they will meet with Mr. DeGraw and his neighbors tomorrow to discuss their complaints. Any property damage will be paid for when the project is completed, officials say.

"We take those kind of complaints very seriously, and we will be looking into every one of them," said Gene Neff, Baltimore County director of public works. The project, which has been planned for a decade, involves extending Rossville Boulevard to link Putty Hill Avenue to Stemmers Road, creating a major cross-county connector to ease traffic on the Beltway, Mr. Neff said.

The portion that links Putty Hill Avenue to Belair Road -- which runs behind Mr. DeGraw's house -- is slated to open next spring and should be completed next summer, Mr. Neff said.

Most residents along the 7900 block of Rolling View Avenue say they have known for years they would eventually have the highway for a neighbor. But they didn't anticipate such problems.

"It's just been a real mess out here," said Wilfredo Delacruz, who lives across from Mr. DeGraw.

Residents say that since construction started 18 months ago, they have been upset most by the soot and the trucks that have lumbered down their street and battered Rolling View Avenue.

"You wash your car in the morning and you could write your name in soot by the afternoon," said Robert Berchtenbreiter, 66.

Mr. DeGraw, 29, who markets telephone equipment, said the steamrollers and other heavy equipment have rattled the china plates off his mantel and cracked his chimney and basement walls. They have shaken Mr. Delacruz's house across the street, buckling his wooden kitchen cabinets and cracking the bedroom plaster near his portrait of Elvis Presley.

"When that heavy equipment starts up, the earth moves, the pictures fall off the walls, the chandeliers shake. It's like something from 'The Exorcist,' " Mr. DeGraw said.

With the county facing a $26.8 million budget shortfall, County Executive Roger B. Hayden last month put on hold all capital projects not under way for at least two months. Residents are concerned that means once the highway is completed, any repairs to Rolling View Avenue will be delayed indefinitely.

County officials say the deficit has made all future road work uncertain.

"Right now, I don't think the county can make any promises to anyone on road projects," said W. William Korpman 3rd, chief of construction inspections for the public works department.

Mr. DeGraw said the county paid him $22,000 in May 1989 for about 300 square feet of his property because part of his southern border was needed for the highway.

But he was told about a month ago that he also may have to give up another quarter-acre for "visual clearance," so motorists can see oncoming traffic as they turn on to the new artery from a nearby intersection. That added insult to injury, he said, because it means giving up more of his land.

"I can't put a pool up on it, I can't replace the fence that they tore down, all I can do is own it," he said.

He has contacted an attorney, but said he is unsure if a lawsuit to try to prevent the county from taking the land would be worth the expense. He said that in recent weeks county officials have begun negotiating to buy that second portion of his tract but have made no firm offer.

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