Rural area rumblings

Concerns: As a Union Bridge industry begins testing its expanded facility, some neighbors are worried about the disruptions to their peaceful community.

November 21, 2001|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Judy Smith lost her horse barn in a fire two years ago. Since then, she and her husband have struggled to rebuild it, but now that it's almost done, they aren't sure they even want to stay on their Carroll County farm.

They're worried about the safety of their neighborhood near Union Bridge, where Lehigh Portland Cement Co. soon will fire its new cement kiln, one of the largest, most technologically advanced ever built. When it reaches full operating power next year, the kiln will allow Lehigh to double its production.

Smith can hear a steady industrial hum from the plant and is concerned that added trucks using the cement maker will snarl traffic and possibly cause serious accidents.

She is not the only person anxious about the effects of Lehigh's expansion.

Residents of New Windsor in Carroll County and Libertytown in Frederick County expect more trucks to rumble through their quiet streets. People who live in houses along rail lines serving Union Bridge worry that they will hear more train whistles at night. Extra noise and traffic seem likely to affect hundreds.

Lehigh plant manager Dave Roush acknowledges that unpleasant sights and sounds are likely, but the company has acted ethically and tried to keep as many people as possible unaffected, he said. Lehigh began its $268 million expansion in 1999 and is testing the new plant.

Roush said he understands widespread concerns about the new plant. He's not sure how much extra truck traffic will clutter area roads or where it will go. Trucks eventually will pass 24 hours a day instead of 16, so that should at least diffuse the increase, he said. "But we know that if a trucker does something crazy in the middle of, say, New Windsor, the trucking firm won't catch the public unhappiness. We will."

It will take months or maybe years to find customers for the extra cement the plant will produce, so the truck and train traffic will increase gradually, Roush said.

Smith and her neighbors seem most worried about Shepherd's Mill Road and Route 75, where most trucks headed to or from New Windsor and Westminster will pass. Trucks using Shepherd's Mill will have to cross a bridge and railroad tracks near its intersection with Route 75. When a 40- or 50-car train is passing, Smith said, trucks could easily back up onto Route 75, where the speed limit is 55 mph.

That could happen, but probably rarely, said Frank Schaeffer, deputy director of Carroll's Department of Public Works. Schaeffer said the county has thoroughly studied the potential problem and found that trucks won't use Shepherd's Mill with enough frequency to create regular backups because the average train passes in 90 seconds or less.

Schaeffer said Lehigh estimates 120 to 140 trucks a day will eventually be using Shepherd's Mill. If the road were open now, about 105 trucks a day would use it.

With more to haul, trains also will run more regularly, but that will mean four trips a day instead of two, said Paul Denton, whose Maryland Midland Railway Inc. handles Lehigh's business.

Smith and her neighbors also worry that speeding trucks will hit them as they slow their vehicles to turn onto their roads. They worry that speeding cars will hit trucks making lumbering turns at Shepherd's Mill.

"I'm worried that I'll slow down to turn and get smacked in the rear by a truck carrying 40,000 pounds of cement," said Julian Stein, who lives a few houses from Smith. "My faith in the state highway department isn't great enough for me to think they'll do either enough or the right thing."

The county will add a turn lane for Shepherd's Mill on each side of Route 75 to give trucks and cars more space to pass unimpeded, Schaeffer said. "When the road's built, I'm confident the intersection will work well." He estimated Shepherd's Mill would be ready late next year.

The county embarked on the Shepherd's Mill project partly to keep increased truck traffic from passing through downtown Union Bridge. In addition, rerouting rail tracks will keep train traffic from the middle of Farquhar Street, the main route through Union Bridge for decades.

"We'll probably still get about 10 percent of their truck traffic coming down Main Street, but that's nothing compared to what we have now," Union Bridge Mayor Perry L. Jones Jr. said.

But if the deal helps the town, Smith said, it ignores the impact on those living outside.

"Those are valid concerns, but there won't be any backups," Jones said. Traffic backups won't be worse than the occasional one at Route 75 and Main Street in Union Bridge now, he said, adding, "There's not a problem."

In New Windsor, more trucks will pass through en route to Westminster and Baltimore. New Windsor has long been a crossroads for trucks serving Lehigh, so the change probably will be most noticeable to new residents, said Mayor Samuel Pierce.

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