Road barrier coming down, but tempers are rising Towson detour touches political nerves BALTIMORE COUNTY

February 24, 1993|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

Like dentists yanking a sore tooth, state highway workers will rip out the controversial Towson traffic barrier this week.

That will get southbound York Road traffic flowing unimpeded through central Towson again after a nine-month detour. But it may take longer to heal the political wounds the barrier leaves behind.

The concrete jersey wall across southbound York Road at Allegheny Avenue is being removed at the urging of state Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, R-9th, and Dels. Gerry Brewster, D-9th, and Martha Klima, R-9th.

They met with merchants last week and decided the barrier was bad for York Road businesses.

Their actions, however, have steamrollered Towson Councilman Douglas B. Riley, R-4th, who had championed the barrier, and Baltimore County's traffic engineers, who concluded that it has eased the flow of traffic through Towson's most difficult intersection.

"My problem is not with the decision that it should come down," Mr. Riley said. "My problem is with the process -- that a state delegate can order it taken down without talking to the local councilman and the county executive."

The entry of Towson's state delegation into the controversy amounts to "state officials micro-managing Towson," Mr. Riley said.

Mr. Boozer acknowledged that the legislative delegation's actions have stepped on some toes. "I think Doug is very upset, which I regret," he said. But, after weighing the business losses against traffic flow, "I think I've got to come down on the side of people who have got to make a living every day."

Darrell Wiles, assistant district engineer with the State Highway Administration, said yesterday the barrier will be down "by the end of the week." But in response to suggestions made at a meeting Monday with a variety of community interests, traffic won't flow exactly as it did before the wall went up last May.

As the barrier comes down, he said, signs will go up prohibiting left turns from southbound York Road onto Joppa Road, and from eastbound Allegheny Avenue onto northbound York Road.

"What we hope is that . . . those restrictions will retain some of the benefits the barrier caused, and remove some of the less desirable aspects of it," he said.

The barrier was proposed in the Towson Community Plan as part of an effort to address traffic congestion in Towson. Initially a six-month experiment, it was left in place after county traffic officials pronounced it a success in November. Towson merchants, however, never dropped their opposition.

C. Richard Moore, Baltimore County's chief traffic engineer, said his office concluded that "traffic flows had in fact improved in Towson as measured by traffic counts and congestion."

With the barrier gone, he said, "I would assume the congestion level would return." But York Road is a state highway, he said, "and I guess they have the right to do whatever they feel is necessary."

Towson-area community associations "are somewhat skeptical of what's going to happen when the barrier comes down," said Richard Zeff, of Stoneleigh, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations.

"We liked the barrier and the effect it had," he said. Community groups never saw proof that businesses had really been hurt.

Business owners insist they were. John Julius, owner of the Shell Station just north of the wall, said his gasoline sales dropped 40 percent after the barrier went up.

Key Oldsmobile, the Towson Inn, Towson Commons and owners of many shops south of the barrier had all complained that the barrier cost them money.

Unable to win over Mr. Riley, they finally appealed to their state delegation at a meeting last week.

Mr. Boozer said Mr. Moore attended but failed to make a case for the barrier's benefits.

"I'm not going by what the county tells me," Mr. Boozer said. "It's a state road."

Mr. Wiles said the state Towson traffic task force that met Monday to work out details of the barrier's removal will meet again in the coming months to "fine-tune" the changes.

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