Mountain Road plan raises fears

Residents battle proposed widening

August 30, 2001|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

A recommendation in a long-range transportation proposal to widen Mountain Road has renewed the concern of Pasadena residents and area politicians who for more than two decades have feared that expansion of the road would usher in unwanted growth.

The final draft of the 2001 Baltimore Regional Transportation Plan, which was released this month, recommends widening the Pasadena peninsula road from its current three lanes -- one lane in each direction and a center reversible lane -- to five lanes by 2020. The widening would take place along a 1.6-mile stretch between Route 100 and South Carolina Avenue, according to the plan.

"There is a real fear that [the Pasadena peninsula] is just going to be developed, developed, developed," according to Carolyn Roeding, president of the Greater Pasadena Council, who said that a moratorium on construction was lifted soon after a $1 million reversible-lane system opened along the Mountain Road in 1999 to relieve traffic congestion.

Roeding said residents opposed to the road-widening want the recommendation removed from the plan. So do elected officials who represent the Mountain Road corridor, said state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, a Brooklyn Park Democrat.

"It would disrupt the total character of Mountain Road, and that's not what we want, that's not what the citizens want," said Jimeno.

He said residents have voiced concerns about road-widening since he was elected in 1978. "We understand the need for long-range planning, but this impacts business owners and residents because there is always uncertainty about relocation of their businesses," Jimeno said.

But county transportation planners familiar with residents' concerns stress that at issue is a planning document that will aid planners in alleviating congestion.

"This is a plan, not a project. People don't seem to understand the difference," said Harvey S. Gold, a senior county transportation planner who represents County Executive Janet S. Owens on the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board, which drafted the plan. "Most likely, nothing is going to happen there. We're using our crystal ball to look and see what may be needed."

Said Jimeno in response: "I know this is a planning tool, but it sometimes is used to set priorities."

Gold said the plan includes projects worth more than $5 billion in five counties and Baltimore and that it would be up to local jurisdictions to decide whether to adopt its proposals.

The plan recommends about $578 million in projects countywide, including adding lanes to Interstate 97, Ritchie Highway, Routes 3, 32, 100, 175 and 198, Telegraph Road and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. It also proposes building a ramp from eastbound U.S. 50 to Route 2 south in Parole and developing or extending several bicycle/pedestrian trails.

Transportation officials drafted the plan after analyzing commuting trends, population and work patterns. The public will be able to comment on the proposed plan next month at a meeting of the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board.

The recommendation to widen Mountain Road stems from a State Highway Administration study that found that the road will fail to meet demands in another 20 years, Gold said. Despite that prediction, he said, the county is not required to adopt the recommendation, especially if the 2-year-old, reversible-lane system on Mountain Road continues to ease traffic congestion.

A State Highway Administration study released last year found that traffic flow has improved on Mountain Road and that delays during peak hours have been reduced since the reversible-lane system opened.

But it also found that during the peak morning hours, traffic on the road increased by 27 percent eastbound and 5 percent westbound from February 1998 through February 2000.

During peak evening hours, traffic increased by 10.5 percent eastbound and 15 percent westbound during the same time period.

"We're looking at the need there and we project, given the information we have at the present ... there will be a need for some widening," Gold said.

He added that the effectiveness of the reversible-lane system "should last another five to 10 years."

The long-range plan is updated every three years, and if the factors have changed, the plan could change, Gold said.

But Jimeno said yesterday that the reversible lanes "have far exceeded our expectations" and might be the long-term solution. He said extending the reversible lanes and making improvements at key intersections along Mountain Road might prolong the improved traffic conditions on the Pasadena peninsula and eliminate the need for widening.

A public meeting of the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 24 at the Baltimore Metropolitan Council offices, 2700 Lighthouse Point East, Suite 310, Baltimore.

Information: 410-732-0500, Ext. 1047.

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