Aug 17, 2004

Smart law prevents clean getaway

Maryland tries to work around anti-sprawl measure to widen Rte. 32

Taxpayers along Rte. 32 have paid for all the extras. Some, however, refuse to give up their two-door model.
The congested corridor is under public duress these days. To help reduce the constant flow of accidents, the Maryland Department of Transportation wants to widen the two-lane highway. But the move interferes with a smart growth law installed in the late 1990s which says state money should only be spent on roads, schools and other projects in and around existing communities.
Officials have done just about everything to improve safety on Rte. 32. Center-lane rumble strips were installed a few years ago, and new signing, pavement markings and lighting followed.
“These are short-term fixes for something that hasn’t gone away,” David Buck, spokesperson for the Maryland State Highway Administration, told Roads & Bridges. “This is a road that has significant safety issues that need to be addressed now because the accident rate is just alarming.”
The safety extras have helped. According to State Highway Administrator Neil Pederson, the number of fatal and severe accidents has declined in recent years. Since 2001 there have been four fatalities and 186 injuries.
Traffic, however, continues to bubble over, and making the situation worse is the high volume of trucks. Route 32 is one of the few north-south connectors between I-95 and I-70, and because it is part of the National Highway System the state cannot restrict truck traffic. A new Rte. 100 was constructed to pull some of the heavy loads off of Rte. 32, but the number of daily motorists is expected to increase another 46% by 2025.
“(Route 32) is a two-lane road with traffic signals,” said Buck. “We’re encouraged by the results of our improvements, but we still see certain types of accidents that tend to be very prevalent when you have a lot of stop-and-go congestion like we do every day.”
Smart growth supporters would like to see the state use every possible alternative before crews come in to fatten the pavement.
“This highway is a big sprawl maker, which the state cannot afford,” Dru Schmidt-Perkins, director of 1,000 Friends of Maryland, told the Baltimore Sun.
Buck, however, contends that the growth already exists in the area.
“If you look at either side of this road it’s built up pretty good to begin with. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have the issues that we have,” he said.
This will mark the second time the state has had to approach the Board of Public Works for an exemption to the smart growth law. The first request was for the Manchester Bypass in Carroll County. The project, however, never reached the construction phase.

About the author

Bill Wilson is Editor of Roads & Bridges magazine