The first public discussion of a neighborhood conservation project for New Windsor's Main Street drew more than 35 people last night.
State Highway Administration engineers and planners made a presentation that took the place of the regular monthly Town Council meeting. The discussion represented the first step in the project to improve the area of Route 31 -- the town's Main Street -- from Coe Drive to Church Street.
"This is really the beginning," said Ken Goon, of Rummel, Klepper & Kahl, a Baltimore engineering firm. "We don't have any plans at all."
"There's no bad comment," he said as he asked residents for their input.
Many comments followed. Most concerned the volume and speed of truck traffic. Others dealt with sidewalks, mismatched curbs, guardrails, wires across the street and streetlights near homes.
The revitalization effort will go beyond realigning roads and improving intersections to include concerns such as safety, sidewalks, signs, traffic flow, trees and landscaping, gutters, storm drains and streetlights, said Yolanda Takesian, a senior planner for the Maryland Department of Transportation, in an interview before the meeting.
"These are essentially projects that belong to the communities," she said, although they must have a transportation component.
The Neighborhood Conservation Program is a 4-year-old component of the governor's Smart Growth policies.
In New Windsor, where roads won't change, Takesian said, planners will try to ease the traffic through town.
The first step is to create a task force of residents, business people and others.
"It happens differently in every place," Takesian said. "It's up to the local communities. We try to make sure, when it is an historic town like New Windsor, that folks who are interested in the historic character are included.
"We want to be getting out, letting people know this is happening, to get people who are interested on board," she said.
Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr. planned to ask for volunteers for the task force, whose members he said he would name.
The committee is to make recommendations in six to nine months "to establish the goals, what elements the community might want to include," said Takesian. "We'll go back to the community with what the task force is recommending and get their opinion." If the town passes a resolution supporting the project, engineering studies would begin. "That's when it gets more expensive," Takesian said.
After the engineering, estimates for completing the project range from "about three years for a very simple plan" to four years or longer, Takesian said.
This program does not include utilities, she said, so if a town wanted to undertake the expense of burying its lines, that would need to be completed first. Also, the town will be responsible for long-term maintenance of areas beyond the curbs -- a factor when considering something such as a brick pavement that requires much care.
The program does not include closing roads, Takesian said. "Usually, it's a flagging operation -- one lane open all the time. We work with property owners to keep access, disruption down. We try to pay a lot of attention to this to keep good communications at all times."
When the governor's Smart Growth policies began dooming plans for bypasses, some towns fought on while others struggled to accept the change.
But Gullo, who recently changed his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat, has said talking about bypasses is a waste of time.
Takesian said, "New Windsor is one of the communities that decided it didn't want a bypass. They wanted the traditional use of the roadway to be continued as the main route through town.
"We frequently run into situations where there's truck activity in town, and we have to be respectful of the problems and concerns," she said of truck traffic in New Windsor.
Takesian said the Neighborhood Conservation Program has received about $8 million in funds in the past four years, but is seeking $24 million from the General Assembly for the next fiscal year.
The program has completed 16 projects, including one in Westminster that she said was a learning experience in what not to do. She said officials learned it is better to form a community task force and to get its input before any engineering planning is done.
In Westminster, "we didn't acknowledge at all what was important to the community -- for example, the trees were very important to the town," Takesian said. "Now, we don't go out with a project in mind. We listen to the community first."
She said four Neighborhood Conservation projects are under construction, 34 more are in the concept-development phase -- as is New Windsor -- and 33 are in the engineering phase, she said. Future Carroll County projects include Sykesville, Union Bridge and Manchester.