Lehigh expansion to avoid Union Bridge passage Rail lines, truck routes are to be diverted from Main Street

September 08, 1998|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Lehigh Portland Cement Co.'s plans to nearly double the size of its Union Bridge plant will increase truck and train traffic, but not along the town's Main Street.

Carroll County officials and Maryland Midland Railway Co. (MMID) are working on projects to shift rail lines and truck routes that serve the plant, which will become the company's largest in North America when the $260 million expansion project is completed.

Traffic interruptions on Main Street are part of the daily routine in the northwest Carroll town of 1,000, as MMID uses the tracks that cross the street to shift rail cars.

Residents are accustomed to trains running up the middle of Farquhar Street, a residential thoroughfare, several times a day to reach the Lehigh plant. Truck traffic, much of it related to the Lehigh operation, is a daily nuisance on Main Street.

The planned rail and street changes come as Union Bridge merchants are starting a downtown revitalization effort, which sees reducing truck traffic as one way to increase Main Street's attractiveness to shoppers.

The county plans to build a new road called Shepherds Mill Road, which would link the Lehigh plant at the southeastern end of town with Ladiesburg Road, an access road to Route 75. The railway plans to install tracks parallel to Shepherds Mill Road, connecting the plant to the main rail line.

The projects were prompted by the cement company's expansion. The expansion will increase the plant's production capacity from 1 million to 1.9 million tons of cement a year.

"With the tremendous increase in shipments by truck and rail, it's really a no-brainer. We need to get the trucks and trains out of Union Bridge," said Paul D. Denton, MMID president.

Lehigh is behind the schedule it had hoped to follow to obtain air emissions permits from the Maryland Department of the Environment, "but I don't think it will affect [the construction schedule]. We still hope to start construction by next spring and have the plant in operation by 2001," said David H. Roush, plant manager.

Lehigh, an Allentown, Pa., subsidiary of Heidelberger Zement AG of Germany, initially planned a $180 million expansion and renovation that would increase production capacity by 50 percent. Roush said the company increased the project as plans were refined the past two years.

Lehigh will continue to operate much of its existing plant at the southeastern end of Union Bridge. Roush said raw materials handling and limestone grinding will be shifted to a new building adjacent to the existing plant.

The county has budgeted $1.5 million for construction of Shepherds Mill Road, with construction scheduled in summer 1999. The county economic development office is seeking state aid for relocation of the rail line.

The projects "won't eliminate, but will greatly reduce" closures of Main Street to switch cars, said Denton.

Rail workers close Main Street to switch cars three to six times in a 24-hour period, depending on the volume of trains, he said. When the new track is laid to the Lehigh plant, most switching will be done on that end, he said.

Farquhar Street tracks will be paved over or removed when the new line is completed, Denton said.

The impact of the Lehigh expansion and modernization "is going to be huge -- the amount of money and material they're bringing in here just to construct the plant. It's going to be enormous," Denton said.

To meet the cement company's increased demand for rail service, Denton plans to add several locomotives, several hundred cars and double the railroad's staff of 33 employees.

Pub Date: 9/08/98

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