More than 150 Elkridge residents packed a school meeting room last night, mainly to oppose the closing of Hanover Road at a railroad crossing west of the border of Howard and Anne Arundel counties - but not everyone agreed.
The closing was intended to make the 18th-century community's twisting, bumpy main street safer, and several residents maintained that the goal must be reached, whatever the means.
"I feel a need for it to be safer, and if closing it will make it safer, then we should do that," said Christine O'Connor, a Hanover Road resident and mother of three young children. At least have a one-month trial, she said, recalling two times that speeding teenagers hit a tree on her lawn.
Her opinion was the minority view, however, as others attending the Greater Elkridge Community Association meeting at Norbel School denounced any plan for even a trial closing.
William F. Malone, Howard County's traffic division chief, said a one-month closure is what is at stake - enough time to study the effect that would have on traffic.
About 1,500 vehicles a day make the crossing, he said, with about three accidents a year. But Maryland highway officials are about to launch a study of whether to build an interchange at Hanover Road and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, and Baltimore-Washington International Airport-related expansion will bring more traffic.
Area residents said they do not want to give up their easy shortcut between Howard County and the airport, Arundel Mills mall and Route 100. Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Don Watson said he is opposed to closing the road because it will take longer to get equipment to the other side, even using an emergency-vehicle gate.
"Closing the road will not stop speeders. I would like to see traffic-calming bumps," said Steve Lembert.
Eileen Lund, a 30--year resident, said, "I work at Fort Meade. I don't need to be on U.S. 1. I don't need an extra 15 or 20 minutes added to my commute. I don't feel the road should be closed just because people don't know how to cross a railroad crossing the right way."
Two Anne Arundel County Democrats, state Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr. and Del. Mary Ann Love, said their constituents also oppose the closing the road. Howard County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican, told the standing-room crowd that he would abide by community sentiment.
"I understand there is a lot of opposition," he said, but he added that somehow the county has to "make sure it's safe for schoolchildren."
Although the idea was debated two years ago and action postponed because of local opposition, Malone wanted to gauge sentiment anew before deciding whether to study the issue further.
The opposing arguments are clear.
Howard's public works director, James M. Irvin, has said his staff first worked for several years on plans to widen and straighten the winding country lane, but - faced with community opposition - switched to the idea of closing the road.
"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," he said.
Residents supported Irvin's view during a 2001 meeting of about 80 people, but others objected later because they would lose an easy route to the airport, community post office, local stores and Route 100. If the road is closed, they argued, they would be forced back to U.S. 1, where there is no traffic light and a heavy volume of vehicles, creating new safety concerns.
Michael Hurd suggested waiting until the State Highway Administration study is complete before making a decision about closing Hanover Road. He said that any closure should come at the county line, not the railroad tracks, to avoid separating residents of Race Road from the rest of Elkridge.
Wayne Dixon, president of the nearby Harmans Community Association in Anne Arundel County, urged the Elkridge residents to stop fighting among themselves and unite in resolving the safety problem.
"You're passionate about the same things. Find a way to make it work for everyone," Dixon said.