Route 26 plans topic at public hearing

Some residents urge that nothing be done

November 08, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

As congested as the Route 26 corridor is through Eldersburg, some residents have told state officials they would rather live with a crowded highway than suffer the inconvenience of proposed improvements.

The State Highway Administration aired five plans Tuesday for improving the 2.5-mile stretch that serves as Eldersburg's main street. A sixth option is to do nothing. Costs ranged from $17 million to $22 million and most options included landscaped medians separating the four-lane highway and right-turn auxiliary lanes to improve access.

"You will spend $20 million and not decrease the volume of traffic," said John Culleton of Haight Avenue. "You also will impede access to local businesses and you won't separate the local traffic from the through traffic. Don't build anything. You won't make it better ... and you will save $20 million."

The public hearing at Oklahoma Road Middle School drew nearly 150 people, with Culleton and four others offering comment publicly. Most of the speakers decried the plans, most often for the effect on their driving habits.

"Everybody wants change as long as it is not in front of their house," said Hoby Wolf of Oklahoma Road. SHA developed the options after nearly two years of meetings with a focus group of business and community leaders as well as county and state officials. Carroll commissioners and the state shared the $400,000 cost of the study.

"We encourage people to realize these improvements are ... positive for everyone," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who attended the hearing with Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "This project will help move traffic through Eldersburg, beautify the area and create walkways for residents."

The median would decrease access to the highway but it also would force some motorists to make U-turns at traffic signals to reach their destinations. The corridor has more than 100 access points, a number that must be reduced if safety is to improve, highway officials stressed. "We have to balance convenience with safety," said Wesley Mitchell, SHA project planning manager.

Dell asked why the county's long-planned service roads, which would run parallel to the highway, were not among the proposals.

"Service roads were more in the county's plan and were not considered when [SHA] came on board," Mitchell said. "The county could still build them, but it would take years to acquire the land."

Under optimum conditions, construction of the improvements would not start until 2005 and only if funding is available, he said.

Highway planners will consider all comments, including many aired at previous workshops, Mitchell said. A few residents gave their opinions privately Tuesday and others said they planned to submit written comment.

It probably will be late spring before SHA chooses the best option and hands the project to its engineers, Mitchell said.

State officials said they were not surprised at the negative comments. "Typically, the minority shows up at these hearings and expresses opposition," said Robert L. Fisher, SHA district engineer. "We take those comments into consideration, but we look at what is best for the majority."

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