Bethel traffic tape offers rosy view

Computer simulation by expert part of hearing

neighbors unimpressed

March 07, 2001|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

The simulated traffic video was meant to show Baltimore County's zoning commissioner how smoothly cars would flow from a 3,000-seat church proposed for rural Granite.

But skeptical neighbors of the church site watching the presentation yesterday saw quiet Old Court Road transformed into a busy thoroughfare west of Liberty Road.

The computer simulation was presented by a traffic consultant hired by Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church to show how quickly more than 1,000 vehicles would leave the church between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sundays, imposing only brief waits on cars leaving three nearby driveways.

John W. Guckert, president of the Traffic Group, told Zoning Commissioner Lawrence E. Schmidt that the projected traffic changes "are not unreasonable conditions," and that at peak travel time, Old Court Road would be at 70 percent of its traffic capacity -- acceptable by state standards.

Schmidt was continuing a series of hearings that began last fall when Bethel, a large city congregation, proposed building a $10 million structure on 255 acres in Granite, between Randallstown and the Howard County line.

Because the church meets zoning requirements, Schmidt cannot reject its development proposal, but he can order Bethel to scale back its plans.

When Granite residents saw the video yesterday, one man in the audience remarked, "I'll be there forever."

Mark Smith, who lives about a mile from the site, said of the video: "It doesn't show the packs of bicyclists who utilize that road on Sundays. It'll knock them out."

Others complained that the video didn't take into account the hills and sharp turns that could slow traffic.

"This is not virtual reality, it is a simulated program," said Guckert, who estimated that the average car would drive 40 mph.

His company's study estimated 3,081 vehicle trips to and from the church between 5 a.m. and 3 p.m. each Sunday.

A study of traffic on three Sundays last fall showed that an average of 1,275 vehicles were driven on the stretch of Old Court Road during the same hours.

At the peak Sunday hour, between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., the estimated traffic from the church would add 1,159 vehicles to the 196 vehicles using the road, according to the study.

In October, Schmidt ruled that Bethel's plans met county regulations governing well water, forest conservation, flood plains and protection of historic grave sites. But he ordered Bethel to update its traffic study, saying he was not convinced that Old Court Road could handle the expected traffic.

The hearing is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Friday in Room 106 of the County Office Building, 111 W. Chesapeake Ave., Towson.

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