Carroll, state to seek plan to ease traffic on Route 26

Congested stretch of highway targeted for $800,000 study


June 05, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A partnership between Carroll County and Maryland could result in improved traffic flow and fewer accidents on a 7-mile stretch of Route 26 in Eldersburg, one of the county's most congested and accident prone roads.

The county and the State Highway Administration will share the costs of a state-run study estimated to cost about $800,000. The project could result in major improvements to the highway, which serves as the main artery for South Carroll, the county's most populated area.

"This is the first time we have partnered with the state on a project of this type," said Steven Horn, county director of planning. "It is essentially a corridor study that will consider development patterns and recommend improvements to help facilitate the long-term function of Route 26 as an artery."

South Carroll, which includes all of Sykesville and Eldersburg and is often called the Freedom Area, has nearly tripled in population, to about 30,000, in the last 30 years. Growth is expected to continue along the Route 26 corridor.

"South Carroll is the county's largest growth area, and we are interested in preserving the long-term viability of Route 26," Horn said. "It is critical to both the community and commuters."

More than 32,000 vehicles a day travel Route 26, also known as Liberty Road. By 2020, that daily volume will reach nearly 50,000. Intersections are clogged, and several have long accident histories. Few parallel roads, such as MacBeth Way and Piney Ridge Parkway, are complete, although several have been planned for more than 20 years.

"The Freedom Miniplan showed a series of frontage roads to access businesses, but they were never built," Jeanne Joiner, county bureau chief of planning, said in a reference to the 1977 plan. "During a state highway tour last fall the county said it was willing to fund those service roads and possibly right-turn-only lanes."

The state will also work closely with the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission, reviewing all proposed subdivisions that would need entry onto the highway.

"The idea is to set up access points and then not allow others," Joiner said.

Horn expects the study to pinpoint problems and offer solutions fairly quickly, but he added that how quickly depends on the scope of the work. Construction funding could also be a joint venture, he said.

"This is not a new road project that takes years and years," he said. "We have an opportunity here to work speedily on improvements to the corridor and ensure vehicle and pedestrian safety at the same time."

Recommendations could include: parallel service lanes, consolidation of access points, elimination of some traffic signals, right-turn-only lanes into shopping centers and the addition of pedestrian crossings, Horn said. Median barriers and landscaping could spruce up the highway, he said.

The highway segment east of Route 26, which has become the area's business corridor, is of particular concern, Horn said. From Route 32 east to the Baltimore County line, seven signals and nearly 100 access roads and driveways hamper the flow of traffic.

"We would like to correct some of those mistakes and prevent them from happening west of Route 32," Horn said.

The study will also focus on the intersection of Routes 26 and 32, rated a near failure by the state because of long delays in crossing and numerous accidents.

"We want to look at where development occurred and what improvements were made to the highway," said Mark C. Radloff, SHA project manager. "This will help us figure out where traffic is going."

Congestion and safety issues primarily are driving the project and making it a priority, Radloff said.

State planners will seek input from residents, businesses and officials.

A bulk mailing two weeks ago to several thousand homes and businesses detailed the study and asked for comments.

"We have already heard from many residents about the congestion and many have called for a halt to urban sprawl," Radloff said.

Those comments, traffic counts and accident studies will figure into the study, as will any environmental issues, because the highway lies within the Liberty Reservoir watershed.

"Basically, we will recommend improvements based on development trends and what will happen in the future," Radloff said.

The state also plans to set up a focus group, with about 20 members drawn from government, the community and businesses. Public hearings will be scheduled locally about a year from now.

"We are looking for solutions that come from consensus," Radloff said.

He expects to create a model that will show the highway as it could look in 2020, with and without improvements. The study could take as long as three years, Radloff said. Horn would like a shorter turnaround.

"The county is helping to fund the study as well as the improvements, which the project will identify and estimate costs for," Horn said. "Our willingness to partner should speed up the process."

Information: 1-800-548-5026.

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