Keep it small

October 18, 2011

Aside from linking the Harford County portion of the Monkton ZIP Code area to the larger Baltimore County portion of the community, the one-lane bridge that carries Hess Road over Little Gunpowder Falls is little more than a convenience for people who live in the territory around the bridge.

No great revelation here. The same is true of every country road, every quiet back street and every alley. Roadways are to serve the people who live around them and the smaller the community being served, the smaller the road and the smaller the road's infrastructure.

And as happens with all infrastructure, the Hess Road bridge that links Harford to Baltimore County is nearing the end of its useful life and will need to be replaced. In preparation, Harford County government, which is taking the lead on construction for this project as Baltimore County is dealing with bridgework at another border crossing, organized a public input session to find out what the people living in the area want.

Prior to the hearing, it seemed a two-lane bridge to replace the existing one-lane span would be a foregone conclusion. As it turned out, though, a substantial number of people turned out to say what they want in a new Hess Road bridge and that is for it to be a one-lane bridge, just like what's there.

Though a two-lane bridge would make the crossing a little more convenient, it also would make the roadway a good deal more attractive to two things that aren't popular in rural communities: developers and people looking for short-cuts.

Rural areas are popular places to build new residential neighborhoods, especially when they're like the territory on either side of the Little Gunpowder near Hess Road, that is to say within easy commuting distance of places like Hunt Valley, Towson and Baltimore. It remains to be seen if residential development is an impetus for widening the Hess Road bridge, but it wouldn't be the first time a public works project turned out to be convenient for folks looking to build houses.

In this case the greater concern of the community is one of keeping a country road just that. A one-lane bridge forces a little bit of caution on the part of those traveling the roadway. Some of those who testified last week highlighted a key reality of the situation: the bridge isn't particularly heavily used, so expanding it isn't necessary.

An upgrade, however, would be nice. And the two county governments could take any money saved by keeping a one lane bridge in place and use it to upgrade other roads and bridges. There are plenty in need of a little work.

If there's no demand for a two lane bridge and the community feels it is well served by the one lane bridge, why not listen to the community and keep it small?

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