While investigating the idea of extending Interstate 795 into Carroll County, the commissioners and transportation planners should also examine the feasibility of having the subway or a light-rail line reach the southern end of the county.
Carroll needs to protect itself from suburban sprawl. By using mass transit, the county would be able to concentrate development and prevent the suburban scatter that has become so characteristic of rural counties surrounding large metropolitan regions. Since World War II, roads have been the key catalyst for promoting suburban growth. Whenever roads are extended from an urban center into nearby rural areas, development inevitably accelerates.
This county is on the cusp of a development explosion. Even though Carroll's master plan calls for the preservation of substantial amounts of farmland, building new roads capable of handling heavy traffic volume could easily overwhelm the plan's best intentions. Once a road is constructed, there's an inexorable pressure to build houses, malls and commercial buildings along its length.
While limiting the number of exits on an extension of I-795 may reduce the ability to build sprawling developments, the gradual disappearance of farmland is inevitable if county residents' only means of transportation is the automobile. Having a mass-transit line gives people a choice and planners a justification for allowing dense development around its stations.
If, indeed, the master plan is to make Finksburg the county's primary industrial and business center, extending a rail line to that section of the county makes great sense. Not only could people living in Baltimore City and Baltimore County use the line to get to work, it would enable Carroll residents to commute easily to current employment centers such as Owings Mills and downtown Baltimore.
The subway line that runs along the median strip of I-795 to Owings Mills could easily be extended into Carroll. Or a less expensive light-rail extension could connect Carroll with the Owings Mills Metro station. A link of this sort would be a powerful economic development tool for the county. Such a creative use of mass transit might enable public officials to control development in a way that allows Carroll County to preserve more of its endangered rural character.