The Freedom Area Citizens Council has taken its plea for safer roads to state transportation officials, urging them to make immediate improvements to Routes 32 and 26 in southern Carroll County.
The state is considering several costly improvements to the highways, which are the main arteries serving the Freedom area, the county's most populous and fastest-growing community, which includes Sykesville and Eldersburg. Among the requested upgrades to a 2 1/2 -mile stretch of Route 26, also known as Liberty Road, are service roads, a median, sidewalks and landscaping, a project estimated to cost about $25 million.
"The matter requires urgency," Thomas McCarron, council president, wrote in a Dec. 1 letter to state Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan that described a fatal head-on collision on Route 26 last month that "may have been prevented with the proposed divided medians."
Gretchen Martina Brandt, 16, of Woodbine was killed Nov. 17 when her car crossed the center line onto eastbound Liberty Road and was struck by a sport utility vehicle.
"We have had another terrible accident that has brought to light once again the urgency of getting Route 26 fixed," said Del. Susan W. Krebs, who represents South Carroll.
Letters, lobbying and safety issues carry weight, said Chuck Gischlar, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration.
"We look at every letter from every citizen group," Gischlar said. "We are trying to identify the funding necessary to make these projects go forward. We take this seriously. It helps a lot that the county is contributing to the projects."
Carroll officials are so intent on the improvements that they have diverted money from secondary roads and made several Freedom highway projects their top transportation priorities. The county commissioners have pledged $3.5 million to help pay for designing the improvements.
"We have two government entities at two levels working together to resolve what is a state and local issue," said Steven D. Powell, the county commissioners' chief of staff. "Our support demonstrates our resolve to address the traffic concerns in the area."
In his annual visit to Carroll County last month, Flanagan said the county's offer could enhance the projects' chances for completion.
County planners have selected three areas in Eldersburg where joint-funding efforts could move projects along. Those include the intersection of Routes 26 and 32, the intersection of Route 32 and MacBeth Way, and the Route 26 corridor from Route 32 east to Carroll Highlands Road, a stretch that serves as Eldersburg's main street.
"The county has stepped up to the plate big time on funding," said Ross Dangel, spokesman for the Freedom council, which serves as an unofficial liaison between county government and South Carroll communities. "They have jumped through all the state's hoops and made these projects priorities. Where is the state's funding?"
State Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, who represents South Carroll and western Howard County, said he lives along Route 32, drives it daily and is aware of the traffic problems.
"There is no question these are important projects," Kittleman said. "The question is whether or not we can get any money from the Transportation Department."
The county and state cooperated a few years ago on a $400,000 corridor-improvement study that resulted in an estimated $25 million plan to improve Route 26 in Eldersburg. About $2.5 million of the county's contribution would help fund the next phase - design and engineering, estimated to cost about $3.5 million - of the Route 26 project. The state has made no commitment to building the improvements, but without preliminary designs, it would not become a priority, county officials said.
The county is also asking the state to redesign the intersection of Routes 26 and 32, which the state rates at near-failure for the delays it causes motorists, and to add a signal at Route 32 and MacBeth Way. Plans also call for widening Route 32 north to MacBeth Way.
"Secretary Flanagan understands the urgency of these projects," Krebs said. "The corridor is a top design priority and MacBeth Way is a spot project. I see both happening simultaneously."