End run around the Towson Wall

February 26, 1993

Who would ever think a few Jersey barriers could cause such a fuss?

Since last May, concrete barriers have blocked southbound traffic at the intersection of York and Joppa roads and Allegheny Avenue. The Great Wall of Towson, as some dubbed it, was proposed by Councilman Douglas Riley to ease traffic congestion at the heart of the Baltimore County seat.

Local community groups liked the wall. Area retailers hated it, claiming it deterred potential customers. It did seem a strange suggestion coming from Mr. Riley, a self-proclaimed business advocate. He nonetheless contended that the minimal impact on retailers would be outweighed by the benefits of reduced traffic in downtown Towson.

The results backed his argument. County traffic engineers reported that the flow of vehicles in the area showed marked improvement after the barriers went up. Originally intended as a six-month experiment, the wall was left standing beyond the half-year mark. Mr. Riley, other county officials and many citizens assumed that a permanent roadblock, such as a landscaped median, would eventually be installed.

But suddenly that assumption has been run over by members of Baltimore County's legislative delegation. At the urging of local merchants, Sen. Vernon Boozer and Dels. Gerry Brewster and Martha Klima acted to have the wall removed this week -- without consulting Mr. Riley. In place of the wall, say state highway officials, signal lights will be better coordinated and certain turns and on-street parking will be restricted in order to help traffic flow around the intersection.

The legislators could justly say they have jurisdiction over the matter because York Road is a state highway. Yet surely they could have mustered the courtesy at least to discuss the issue with the local elected official responsible for the wall. Maybe they were in too much of a hurry to score some quick political points. After all, the 1994 election campaign is only a year away.

This intervention by Messrs. Brewster and Boozer and Ms. Klima represents the worst kind of unwanted and unneeded micro-management of local concerns by state pols. The haughty attitude of the legislators toward the county officials merely adds insult to injury.

The state's plans for the intersection might well be the preferable alternative to the barriers. That still doesn't excuse the legislators' rude end run around the Towson councilman -- and his wall.

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