Of all the proposed improvements to busy Route 26, the main thoroughfare through Eldersburg, a median to divide the four-lane highway has drawn the most attention from South Carroll residents.
The six options for a median were among the proposed improvements for the east-west corridor unveiled by the State Highway Administration at a public workshop Thursday night in Eldersburg.
Detailed graphics showing medians were so specific that they included existing trees. They lined the walls of Oklahoma Road Middle School, drawing questions from many of the 170 residents who attended.
Other suggested improvements included parallel service roads to provide access to businesses, landscaped areas, and bicycle and walking paths.
Though cost estimates for the proposals are preliminary, the price tag for improvements ranges from $17 million to $23 million, money that would come from gas-tax revenues and the state's transportation budget.
The proposed median - which could be intermittent or continuous along the stretch of highway that extends from Route 32 east to the Liberty Reservoir - drew the most comments.
"This work should have started 20 years ago," said Donna Slack of Eldersburg, who told officials that she preferred a closed median along the highway with bicycle and walking paths. "The only way to keep the number of cars down is to get people walking from one place to another safely."
The other median options included a grassy strip or a tree-lined island between the east-west lanes.
Slack was one of 63 participants who put their comments in writing. The SHA will take a few weeks to evaluate them before scheduling a public hearing in Eldersburg in the fall.
"We will be sifting through to find the most popular alternatives for a detailed study of location and design," said SHA spokesman David Buck. "We have to look at what is feasible. There are still multiple options."
The state has learned that residents want a wider Liberty Road, with right-turn lanes and parallel service roads. They asked for bike paths, sidewalks and greenery. Aesthetics, they said, are important to the road that defines Eldersburg's downtown.
The designs presented at the workshop stemmed from efforts of a focus group, made up of residents and state and county officials. The committee worked for nearly two years on possible improvements for the one-mile stretch of highway. The state and Carroll County contributed $200,000 each for project planning.
"The focus group really helped us to fine-tune what Eldersburg is looking for," said Wesley Mitchell, project manager. "This project has the full support of Carroll County. Everybody thinks something needs to be done on this highway. We are acting there primarily because of aesthetics, and we want to work within the county's [growth] plan."
As many as 37,500 vehicles travel daily along the highway, also known as Liberty Road. The population of Eldersburg, Carroll County's fastest-growing area, has tripled to 30,000 in a little more than 20 years.
"I used to sit on my front porch in 1953 and wait a half-hour for a car to go by, and you knew who it was," said Joann Johnston, who lives on Liberty Road. "I knew the road would get like this one day."
Johnston pushed for right-turn lanes on both sides of the highway. Paige Rector wants sidewalks.
"We live about a half-mile off Liberty Road, and it would be nice if my kids could walk along it," Rector said.
Rector is new to Eldersburg and discouraged by the traffic jams on the highway, where motorists often sit through several changes of traffic signals.
"I have gotten stuck at the same light at Ridge Road for three [changes]," she said. "It is incredibly slow, and I feel guilty detouring through neighborhood streets."
Service roads to shopping centers and neighborhoods could keep through traffic flowing better and are also part of the study.
Russell Allen, an Eldersburg resident for 30 years, said Liberty Road should have been widened years ago. He is not optimistic that any of the improvements will be made.
"They did a similar study in 1966 and didn't implement it," Allen said. "If they had, we wouldn't be where we are today. Building is going to keep coming here. You can't stop it. We should make this road as wide as we can for the future."
The comment period will remain open for 30 days. Residents can write to Wesley Mitchell at the State Highway Administration, 707 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21202. Information: 410-545-8542.