Community at odds over Hanover Road

County Council considers closing street at railroad

safety, traffic are worries

May 28, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A leafy relic of the rumble seat era and before, Hanover Road in Elkridge meanders southeast from U.S. 1 through residential neighborhoods, crossing railroad tracks and then Deep Run stream, where it moves into Anne Arundel County toward fast-growing Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Howard County officials and some community residents worried about safety want to close the road at the railroad crossing, a move others complain would cut off a convenient back door for Elkridge residents headed to Route 100, Arundel Mills mall or simply to Scott Haney's country store, and for Arundel residents coming west.

"It would improve the quality of life not to worry about traffic from the airport or the developing area," Keith Schutt, a 40-year Hanover Road resident told the County Council at a public hearing this month.

But some people who recently found out about the road closure plan are not happy.

"There's not that much traffic. Just leave the road the way it is," said Gail Sigel, a Hanover resident who in the past month has mounted a campaign to keep Hanover Road open.

Business owners such as Haney fear financial losses, while others fear a loss of convenience.

Paul Castellanos, who recently built a home in Hanover, said, "We like the location because it is so convenient to the airport and Arundel Mills." Detours would require using U.S. 1 to get to Route 100.

It's a dilemma for the community and area County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, a Republican, who will have the most influence over the decision. The council is scheduled to discuss the possible road closure today at an Ellicott City work session.

"Initially I supported closure, but now I have questions about the [closure's] impact on the rest of the road network," he said. Traffic waiting to get onto U.S. 1 already backs up, he said.

James M. Irvin, county public works director, said his staff has worked for three years, first on plans to widen and straighten Hanover Road to make it safer, and then, faced with unanimous community opposition to those plans, to close what he feels is an unsafe railroad crossing.

"It's too curvy, and there are poor sight distances. People miss the point that the grade crossing itself is unsafe. It's a skewed intersection with a big hump in the middle of it," Irvin said.

The county plans to build turnaround areas and to install emergency gates to let fire and police vehicles through. The road would not be closed until about a year from now, when an industrial park roadway would be built on the eastern side of the tracks. The road would create a connection to Coca Cola Drive and Route 100.

MARC commuter and freight trains pass by the crossing, which is marked with flashing red lights and striped barriers that lower before trains pass.

Public works officials say there were 10 accidents on the road, including seven involving vehicles that hit fixed objects or ran off the road, between February 1998 and June 2000.

The county worked for more than a year with the Greater Elkridge Community Association, whose members fear improvements will worsen traffic, and favor closing the road.

Association President David H. Terry said the group held several meetings and in March 2001 discussed the road-closing plan with county officials.

With about 80 people attending, there was "not a single opinion voiced against the closure of the railroad crossing," he said. People who have mounted a recent campaign to keep the road open have a "short-sighted viewpoint looking at convenience," and aren't seeing the long-term situation, he said.

But Sigel and her supporters argue that more traffic moves from the Howard side to Anne Arundel County, and that closing the crossing will force more vehicles through the curvy residential streets toward U.S. 1, where there are no traffic lights and a lot of rush-hour traffic. A Howard traffic survey last year backs that contention.

"It's almost impossible to get out," she said, noting that dozens of homes built in old Hanover during the past 15 years continue to add to the congestion.

There may be room for compromise, however, say Sigel and Kevin Doyle, co-chairman of the county's U.S. 1 Revitalization Committee and a past president of the Elkridge association.

"There must be an in-between solution," Sigel said. Doyle agreed, saying, "What we need to do is come up with some kind of compromise. It's pretty clear it's not acceptable to leave it the way it is."

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