The County Council is expected tonight to preserve the rural nature of 60 county thoroughfares by designating them as scenic roads.
The scenic designation would mean that the roads could not be widened or straightened, except for safety reasons.
At a June 20 hearing on the bill, farmers and school officials expressed concern that scenic vistas might come at the expense of safety.
In particular, farmers feared that motorists might bear down upon them from behind sharp curves and steep hills, and school officials worried that roads and bridges might not be wide enough to accommodate school buses.
Marsha McLaughlin, deputy director of the county's planning department, sought to allay those fears Friday. She said in an interview that safety would continue to be a paramount concern. "If a particular place in the road were the scene of a lot of accidents, we would take steps to improve it," Ms. McLaughlin said. The county might also reduce the speed limit on some winding and hilly roads to 25 mph, she said.
The bill's passage would be a victory of sorts for Washington-based developer Kingdon Gould, who proposed the scenic roads idea to the County Council through an emissary nine years ago.
Mr. Gould had wanted to create a list of scenic roads that remain largely unchanged. Included in that list was the hilly, two-lane road that runs for about a mile in front of his estate near the Huntington section of Columbia.
The scenic roads idea has expanded since then and progressed slowly despite its inclusion in the 1990 General Plan. The bill before the council tonight says that to win scenic designation, the roads "must pass through an area of outstanding natural environmental features . . . provide outstanding views . . . follow historic alignments . . . or provide frontage for properties that are in a historic district."
Each road included on the scenic list is given a description. The road in front of Mr. Gould's house, for example, is described has having "outstanding views of farmland and natural features: gently rolling pastures and cropland, and the wooded valley on either side of the bridge over the Middle Patuxent River."
Mr. Gould last week sent the council a list of suggestions that he said could improve the scenic roads legislation. One of those ideas -- requiring a public hearing before street lights could be installed on a scenic road -- is expected to be incorporated into the bill tonight.
Citizens' groups enthusiastically endorsed the bill at the June 20 hearing and called for quick ratification.
"We have already lost many scenic roads due to lack of protection," said William Waff, president of the Howard County Citizens' Association at that hearing. "Don't lose any more by delaying this legislation."
Farmers were not as enthusiastic, however.
Martha Clark, president of the county Farm Bureau, had earlier expressed concerns that the bill may prevent some rural roads jTC from being widened or straightened for safety reasons.
Councilman Paul R. Farragut, a 4th District Democrat, wants to amend the bill tonight to allow for the creation of areas where slow-moving drivers and farm vehicles can pull off to the side and let other motorists pass.
But Councilman Charles C. Feaga, a 5th District Republican, told Mr. Farragut at a work session on the bill last week that pull-offs would do no good.