Butler Road guardrails to be removed today

Worthington Valley residents objected to look of devices

May 26, 1999|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

In the heart of Worthington Valley horse country, the fox hunt crowd is accustomed to chasing its quarry through open fields, and residents fight fiercely to protect their scenic views.

So when state highway officials put up 200 feet of shiny metal guardrails along a one-mile stretch of Butler Road last week, residents howled at the intrusion.

"I've lived out here 40 years. I've been in the horse business for 40 years, and we were able to go where we want to go," said Katharine Jenkins, who lives on Mantua Mill Road and crosses Butler Road in a pony cart to visit her sister. "I object to my state of Maryland putting up guardrails. This road looks like a road to a shopping center."

Yesterday, the State Highway Administration bowed to pressure from residents who opposed the guardrails and agreed to remove them today.

"It was a judgment call when they put it in," said SHA spokesman Dave Buck. "They determined it was not a safety concern if they remove the guardrail."

While guardrails rarely go noticed in suburban and urban areas, in the Worthington Valley, the shiny metal ribbons -- which were part of $908,000 in road improvements -- caught everyone's attention.

Jenkins said she was dismayed to find the guardrails in place because they prevented her from crossing fields in her pony cart. She phoned highway officials and gave them an earful about why the guardrails were not needed.

"I think it is the biggest waste of money I've ever seen," she said.

Riders in the Green Spring Valley Hounds, a 100-year-old fox chase club -- they do not kill the fox after chasing it -- protested that the guardrails would interfere with their crossing the roads during their hunts.

"They need space to get on and off the road quickly," said Barbie Horneffer, president of the club.

Beyond the freedom of movement was the appearance. "We are trying to retain the scenic character of the roads," said Kathie Pontone, who heads the road committee for the Valleys Planning Council, a land preservation group. "These kinds of suburban-urban abstractions are out of character and keeping with the rural nature."

The state spent $4,500 to install the rails, but Buck said the removal would be free because the state would give the materials to the contractor doing the job.

Highway crews began working on Butler Road between Falls and Mantua Mill roads last fall, replacing culverts and resurfacing the stretch of road as part of the state's routine maintenance program, Buck said.

Highway regulations require guardrails when the side of the road slopes steeply enough to cause concern that a car going off the road might turn over, Buck said.

"It was right on the line," he said of the designer's decision to install the guardrails.

But after engineers and builders reviewed the road at the neighbors' request, they decided the guardrails weren't necessary, he said.

"If it was a safety concern, there is no way we would reverse it," Buck said.

Residents praised the state for its quick turnaround. "They are to be commended," said Fife Symington, a Butler resident who complained that the guardrails were unsightly, interfered with people's movement and might contribute to speeding.

Jack Dillon, director of the Valleys Planning Council, said he was glad of the decision and hopes to work with state officials to prevent such misunderstandings from happening.

"The idea is to keep it in a rural setting, and guardrails don't fit in," he said.

Pub Date: 5/26/99

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