Union Bridge does not have the resources or the will to maintain a newly constructed and heavily used road that a proposed annexation could bring into the town, the mayor said yesterday.
Bret D. Grossnickle, mayor of Carroll's smallest town, told the county commissioners that he is "uneasy about taking ownership" of Shepherds Mill Road, a 1.25-mile stretch that opened to traffic nearly a year ago and cost $2.2 million.
The road, part of a $5.5 million economic development project funded mostly by the state, primarily serves heavy-truck traffic from Lehigh Cement Co.
The town is negotiating an annexation with the owner of an industrial parcel along Shepherds Mill Road. Should those talks be successful and move the annexation forward, the road would be within town limits. The county would then deed the road to the town.
"To ask us to do all maintenance is not entirely fair," Grossnickle said. "I have no idea the life expectancy of a road loaded all day, every day with tractor-trailers."
The road, which connects to Route 75, was designed to draw Lehigh's heavy cement trucks off the town's Main Street.
The company's recent expansion included a new entrance to its plant on Quaker Hill Road near the southern end of town. The route became a bypass alternative to Main Street as the trucks travel east and south via Shepherds Mill Road and Route 75.
"Lehigh is the major user of this road, and this business is located outside town," Grossnickle said. "We don't have tax dollars from Lehigh to pay for maintenance. I am just looking out for Union Bridge."
Lehigh contributed land for the road as part of its $265 million modernization and expansion, which gave the company the largest-capacity single kiln on the continent, capable of producing up to about 6,500 tons of dry cement a day.
An average of 250 to 300 trucks a day carry the cement primarily to Baltimore, Washington and Northern Virginia. The biggest tractor-trailers weigh 80,000 pounds fully loaded. The road is scheduled for surface repairs in the spring, county roads officials said.
"This road is basically Lehigh's driveway," said Judy Smith, a town resident. "Taxpayers are already paying too much because of these heavy trucks. Lehigh should have to pay more of the burden for road repairs."
The state shares highway-user fees, paid by trucks, with the counties to offset the costs of road repairs. The state's budget problems have resulted in a $7 million loss of those fees to Carroll County during the past three years.
Town officials have not asked Lehigh to assist with road maintenance, Grossnickle said.
The commissioners deferred any decision yesterday on contributing to upkeep of the road, and said they are reluctant to set a precedent for maintenance of town roads.
"We see your point," Commissioner Dean L. Minnich told Grossnickle. "We are willing to work with you on these issues."
Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said, "We have to ... look across the county for how we deal with other areas."