Twilight on Tufton Scenes of change: Rush hour brings mounting traffic to roads never meant to handle it.

January 05, 1998

IT IS TWILIGHT HOUR on Tufton Avenue.

The meadows of Baltimore County's Worthington Valley are purple with shadow, lights have turned the windows yellow in farmhouses and old brick mansions.

Here in the heart of Maryland horse country, the horses are headed in for the night. You drive along this two-lane road and think: If I were an artist searching for a pastoral ideal from which to paint, my quest could end here.

And then you come to a bend in the road, near the red-roofed buildings and white board fences of Sagamore Farm. It is only about three-quarters of a mile from here to where Tufton ends at Worthington Avenue. But at this hour it will take you a long time to get there.

You come to a stop behind a long line of cars, the red glow of tail lights incongruous with the empty, darkening fields.

They belong to commuters on their way from work in Hunt Valley, Timonium and Towson to their homes, mostly in new developments or on scattered lots in Westminster, Hampstead, Manchester and Pennsylvania. They all want to turn right on Worthington, which will take them to Route 30 and Interstate 795, but must wait for rare breaks in the traffic. Worthington is loaded with exurb-bound commuters returning from Baltimore.

The main roads to and through the valleys -- one that changes names from Greenspring Avenue to Worthington Avenue to Butler Road, another that turns from Shawan Road into Tufton Avenue -- were not built for this. They were built to serve a local agricultural community that has managed to preserve itself, thanks to its wealth and political clout. But over the past three decades, as Hunt Valley developed as a major employment center and people fled the city and inner suburbs to Carroll County, these roads have become the only east-to-west commuter routes.

The volume of traffic on Tufton Avenue west of Falls Road has risen 25 percent during the last seven years, from 9,800 cars per day to 12,300; county officials expect it to increase another 25 percent over the next seven.

Rural Baltimore County has some of the most restrictive zoning in the nation. Yet residents have learned that their government's efforts to protect this area from the pressures of development is not enough. There is no wall to keep out all those commuters from Carroll. Neither these counties, nor any others, have coordinated development strategies. So rural Baltimore County residents must live with traffic spawned by a neighboring jurisdiction's growth.

Widening these valley roads is unthinkable; it would drastically alter a historically and environmentally sensitive area.

One day, county traffic planners predict, the congestion will get so bad that commuters will demand a major east-to-west connector -- which would bring more development to rural Baltimore County.

But that day is a long way off. The line of cars on Tufton Avenue will only get longer.

Pub Date: 1/05/98

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