Carroll plan to build road at standstill Baltimore won't OK project near reservoir, fearing pollution Issue is `protect the land' Proposal intended to reduce congestion in growing area

January 01, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare and SUN STAFF

Baltimore City and Carroll County are at odds over a plan to ease traffic congestion in fast-growing South Carroll by building a road that would cut close to a city-owned reservoir.

The proposed $884,000 extension of Marriottsville Road, which would cross two streams that feed Liberty Reservoir, has been in the county's growth plan for its most populated area for almost 22 years. In that time, the population has doubled to 28,000, and traffic along the main arteries has increased so much that several intersections have received failing grades from the state.

The proposed road would destroy natural habitats and erode city-owned land that buffers the reservoir, said George G. Balog, director of the city Department of Public Works.

"This project would dissect our buffer land, remove vegetation and affect our quality of water," Balog said. "The whole idea is to plant, not to cause runoff and erosion.

"It is a simple issue for us: Protect the land. We have done everything we can, even to restricting horse and bike trails. We are not going to allow runoff from a road that is within 100 yards of our reservoir."

The issue is at a standstill. Carroll cannot build without the city's approval but is keeping the project in its five-year plan.

"Just because we show a road on a map does not mean we will build it," said county planner Raj B. Williams, who has recommended keeping the Marriottsville Road extension on the plan.

The county is trying to push construction of 17 connector roads to alleviate congestion, particularly along Liberty Road, a state highway known as Route 26.

Since the original plan was formed in 1977, the population has doubled, but roads have not kept pace. More than 80 percent of residents commute to jobs outside Carroll, and they are demanding improvements.

"We have to get traffic off Liberty Road as soon as possible," said Steve Horn, county bureau chief of planning. "We have to look at the complete network and find the best ways to move the most people in the most efficient way. Any construction will be done with sensitivity to the environment."

The new Marriottsville Road would run nearly a mile from Snowden Creek Road north across Liberty Road to Todd Lane and would add one more light to the crowded corridor, which has eight traffic lights in less than a mile.

Even with the prospect of fewer traffic jams, not all in South Carroll support the road. More than 6,000 households there rely on the reservoir for their water supply.

Lou Ann Dent, a Marriottsville Road resident, said the proposed extension would not relieve traffic.

"This road adds an access to Liberty Road -- all the others on the plan alleviate access," Dent said. "Why do it when there is already access to Liberty Road less than a half-mile away?"

Phil Bennett, chairman of the Freedom Area Citizens Council, a group that acts as a conduit between the county and residents, said extending Marriottsville Road is "no way to accommodate growth."

"A road along the reservoir will have a great environmental impact on both sides of the highway," Bennett said.

Under the plan, construction would have "a major wetlands impact and require extensive reforestation," Dent said. The county also needs easements from the city, which Balog has vowed to withhold.

The proposed road would cross Carroll Highlands and Snowden Run creeks, where the only remaining population of brown trout in Carroll County propagates. Both streams drain into the public water supply, and both are designated as natural habitats for the protected fish.

Residents such as Dent do not want to see woodlands and streams destroyed for the sake of a few minutes of drive time. They are becoming increasingly vocal as the county tries to revise its blueprint for growth at its populous southern end. More than 300 residents attended two information sessions on the plan last month.

"I am not a tree-hugger or an environmental fanatic, but to put a road through this area contradicts sound planning," Dent said. "We might get a more direct route and people might save a few minutes, but at what cost to the environment and what impact on the bay?"

Impact on water quality

Construction would also destroy woodlands, which serve as a natural filtration system for the reservoir, Dent said.

"We don't want our forests fragmented and sediment pouring into our reservoir," said Balog, who will continue the battle through zoning hearings.

"This is not just a local issue and not just a need to save trees," Dent said. "This road will have a direct impact on the city's water quality. The entire watershed is an excellent resource for Carroll County, and the city maintains it."

The city has registered its concerns repeatedly. Building the road would be the "height of irresponsibility to the public," Balog wrote in a 1996 letter to the county.

"It appears that your main concern is that Carroll County construct the road in accordance with its adopted plan," Balog wrote.

`Tunnel vision'

Adherence to a plan should not take precedence, said Dent, who keeps copious records of correspondence between the city and the county.

"The arrogance of the county bothers me," Dent said. "They want to take water from Liberty Reservoir, but they could care less about the quality of water. Environmental facts justify taking this road off the plan."

Carroll has held several information sessions on the plan, at which Dent has offered her records.

"I refer to this stuff and it's like they don't hear me," she said. "They don't seem to hear the city either. It's tunnel vision. It's on the plan and they can't see beyond it."

Pub Date: 1/01/99

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