Linton Springs dispute: It's a question of values


June 09, 1996|By Mike Burns

FEW THINGS CAN turn you off as quickly as an old-timer's reminiscences of how long he walked to school and under what extremes of weather.

These time-fogged schoolboy recollections may not be entirely accurate. And they may seem irrelevant to today's conditions.

But it's also true that a lot of adults are likely to ignore, or readily dismiss, the conditions under which young children still walk to school today.

Despite appearances to the contrary, all the kids don't ride the yellow bus or the family car to school. Neighborhoods with an elementary school within walking distance are still in strong demand, and school boards still set strict rules on who is entitled to ride the bus.

All of which means that the pedestrian route to and from school should be as safe as possible for these youngsters. Unfortunately, it seems like this is a belated consideration, an afterthought once land and funding are acquired, the school designed and built.

Then the issue is often confined to measuring the distance between home and school to qualify for bus transportation, rather than trying to make the route safer for young walkers.

In that regard, it would be instructive for Carroll school planners and highway experts and county officials to take a walk up and down Linton Road, from the Ronsdale Road intersection to, say, Irongate Circle.

That's about how far six-year-olds in Eldersburg could walk to class at the planned new Linton Springs Elementary School.

It's a narrow, twisting, hilly stretch, with no sidewalks and no shoulders, and treacherous rocky drainage ditches.

Linton is barely adequate for neighborhood traffic but not for a convergence of vehicles two or four times a day (with morning and afternoon kindergarten sessions). It's doubtful that two school buses can pass each other safely on that existing road.

More than 200 homes are within walking distance of the school site; another hundred are to be developed next door. Hundreds of kids will walk to this school.

That is at the heart of the Linton Springs Homeowners Association's pledge to block construction of the badly needed school, planned for 745 pupils to relieve serious overcrowding at four South Carroll elementaries.

They want a safe entranceway, or entrances, to the school for the safety of children.

The Board of Zoning Appeals having rejected their petition, as did the county planning commission, the community association now threatens to go to court.

That's a difficult decision for the community, because it has lobbied as hard as anyone for the new school. But residents demand that the entrance safety issue be firmly resolved while there is time.

With future plans to build a high school, and possibly a middle school, on the 125-acre site, traffic problems will definitely multiply. "The time to plan for at least 1,200 more students is now, not 10 years from now," says Barry Marsh, president of the civic group.

The organization's immediate legal argument centers on the difference between a site plan and a concept plan for the $8.5 million school, and whether state or local law should prevail in the association's filing of appeals.

Blaming SHA

It's not that the school administrators and the county commissioners are unreasonable. They blame the State Highway Administration's refusal to approve a traffic light on Route 26, so the entrance cannot be located on that state highway.

The school system even proposed a demand-dependent light for school opening and dismissal times, which the SHA vetoed. Commissioner Richard Yates favors a Route 26 entrance, but feels the state will not budge.

The SHA does not want a light on the busy highway, which it plans to widen, and it does not want left-turns across traffic during the rush hours. (That's already a tedious, risky undertaking.)

There still appears room for a solution, but a firm and workable plan is needed now if the elementary is to open in 1998.

One solution is to substantially improve Linton Road for school bus traffic, and to make the route safe for pedestrians. That would cost more money, and taxpayers would foot the bill. Not a pretty prospect in a county where the tax rates keep climbing and every new school has to funded in advance of (possible) state reimbursement.

It's not like Wal-Mart paying to rebuild the road and install a light to facilitate traffic at its Westminster store. But maybe that's an example of what could happen.

The greater community could decide that it is cost-effective to improve Linton Road for enhanced public safety, and for efficient traffic flow along Route 26. Or that the traffic signal for a major school complex is needed on Route 26, in spite of vehicle counts and traffic flows.

Remember that traffic is required to stop in both directions for buses to load and unload children, even during rush hours. That's recognized as a higher priority of transportation policy. The same kind of values need to be raised in deciding the entrance of Linton Springs school.

Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

Pub Date: 6/09/96

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