Plans to widen U.S. 1 opposed Community, business leaders argue against medians, turn lane

August 12, 1998|By EDWARD LEE | EDWARD LEE,SUN STAFF

Calling it dangerous and damaging, a handful of Elkridge community and business leaders rejected a plan yesterday to widen a one-mile stretch of U.S. 1, adding a center turn lane and a median strip between the Deep Run stream and Business Parkway.

Officials from the State Highway Administration had hoped to gain the group's support before taking the idea to the rest of the community, but, when the meeting deteriorated into a heated argument, it was time to go back to the drawing board.

"We were hoping to reach a solution and go with this alternate, but we won't," said Bob Fisher, district engineer for SHA.

That move was applauded by Kevin Doyle, vice president of the Greater Elkridge Community Association.

"Obviously, there are a number of different views," he said. "I'm glad we got the opportunity to share our views with them so that they can take our opinions back to their bosses."

Yesterday's meeting at the Elkridge Branch Library was not intended "to butt heads; it's to get information," said Fisher. It was supposed to conclude nearly three years of planning to reduce accidents on this stretch of U.S. 1, a major corridor for everything from the trucks of heavy industry to the cars of upscale houses.

State highway officials have projected that traffic on U.S. 1 in Elkridge will grow from 24,000 vehicles a day in 1996 to 40,000 a day in 2016.

In January, SHA organized an information workshop, presenting eight alternatives for modifications to the road to residents and merchants.

Options included doing nothing; installing a barrier in the median to prevent motorists from making left turns; and building two jug handles -- devices that route left-turn traffic off the roadway to the right and swing it around to a new intersection -- at two busy intersections.

Yesterday, officials unveiled their recommendation: widening both sides of U.S. 1 by an average of 15 feet, creating a center left-turn lane along some portions and a median in others.

"The fifth lane in the center provides a safe haven for the vehicles to get out of traffic and to make that turn," said Richard T. Hilboky, a project manager with Sheladia Associates Inc., a consulting firm hired by SHA. "Safety is driving this project."

The project -- including reducing the height of two ridges by 18 inches to improve sight lines -- would cost $2.2 million, about $1 million less than it would cost to build the jug handles. Several businesses would lose a total of 10 parking spaces.

But Edward Huber, a member of the Elkridge group, said center turn lanes provide even more problems for motorists.

"It's been my experience that when you have a center turn lane it becomes a no man's land where you have cars sitting there waiting to get in, while others trying to make left turns wait for them to move," he said. "Personally, I don't think that's a safety-based decision."

Arnold Sagner, managing partner of three businesses on U.S. 1 -- Bluestream, Hamilton and Intercoastal partnerships -- argued that the location of the median would harm his ability to develop about 1 million square feet of employment space on U.S. 1.

"The effect of that design is going to have a profound impact on the project," said Sagner, who acknowledged that he has yet to receive approval for such development. "By damaging that piece, you're damaging the future growth of Howard County and this corridor."

Sagner sparred with Patrick A. Minnick, a real estate team leader HTC for SHA, who at one point questioned why the plan should be modified to fit Sagner's needs.

"You're going to have to do road improvements anyway with any development," Minnick told Sagner. "Why is yours more [important] than others?"

When further conversation dissolved into accusations that SHA officials were inflexible, Fisher sought a diplomatic resolution.

County Council hopeful George Layman, a Democrat seeking to replace Darrel E. Drown, who is retiring this year, said a decision would not be easy.

"There's a balance that you have to strike between businesses who don't want to be cut off [with a median] and residents who want to feel safe," Layman said. "I'm not sure there's a solution here."

Pub Date: 8/12/98

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