Neighbors united by worry after loss of road divider Residents fear rise in traffic problems on Gray Rock Drive

June 10, 1996|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

The concrete barrier that divided Gray Rock Drive between Ellicott City and Columbia is gone -- and increased traffic and high-speed motorists have taken its place, residents said.

Ever since Ellicott City's Gray Rock Farm community and Columbia's Dorsey's Search village were developed, the road has been divided, first by woods and fields and then by the barrier -- until last month.

With the convenience of being able to drive the full length of Gray Rock Drive -- which winds past hundreds of homes from Frederick to Columbia roads -- come traffic worries for the newly united neighbors.

"A few days ago, I almost got killed driving on that road," said Jackie Felker, assistant village manager for Dorsey's Search who has lived off Gray Rock Drive for 12 years.

"The man had to be going 50 miles per hour, and he was driving on my side of the road. From a mother's perspective, I did not want the barrier removed."

Tom Breslin, who has lived with his wife, Dorothy, on the Ellicott City end of the street for 11 years, has a different perspective. "I don't think the traffic has changed any," Breslin said. "I wanted the road open because it's a hazard having only one exit for this neighborhood."

His opinion appears to be in the minority.

Many residents of the two communities fear motorists will use the road as an alternative to U.S. 29 to get from Ellicott City to Columbia. They said the only way to stop that would be to install stop signs along the road or perhaps speed bumps.

No changes planned

But none is planned for the area, said James M. Irvin, director of the county's Department of Public Works.

The street doesn't even have a dividing line down the center. In fact, the speed limit was increased from 25 mph to 30 mph to make the commute easier, residents said.

"It's going to be the way it is," Irvin said.

"Of course, if someone brings a concern to our attention, we'll take a look at it."

Removing the barrier and extending Gray Rock Drive 1,100 feet toward Columbia Road was proposed in 1988 to provide alternative routes as the development of the 266-acre Gray Rock Farm community by the Miller Land Co. continued.

In response, Gray Rock Farm and Dorsey's Search residents formed a committee, hired a lawyer and sued the county.

An offer by the county in 1991 to install some speed control measures such as speed bumps and traffic circles -- in return for support for removing the barrier -- was rejected by the community, Irvin said.

The lawsuit was dropped in 1993, laying the groundwork for last month's removal of the roadblock.

Green and blue

Without the barrier, which has been gone since May 15, the only visual difference between the two communities is that the street signs in Ellicott City are green and those in Columbia are blue.

But the barrier is still ingrained in the minds of residents, who refer to the neighborhoods as "this side" and "the other side."

"It has been there for so long," said Pat Drutch, who has lived on the Ellicott City end for seven years.

Drutch, accustomed to driving toward Frederick Road to get out of the community, has driven toward Columbia only once since the barrier was removed -- with good results. She said, "Taking five minutes to get to the doctor beats 10 minutes."

Pub Date: 6/10/96

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