A very little discussed, or at least so we think, feature of the Maryland State Highway Administration's $45.7 million project to upgrade three busy intersections along Route 22 through Aberdeen is the erection of sound or noise barriers or walls, along part of the highway between Paradise Road and Route 40.
The purpose of the barriers is to reduce noise where this busy highway is bordered by residential areas. We get that concept, but we're not sure Aberdeen or Harford County is ready for it, or if the walls are even needed.
Maybe if you live in those neighborhoods affected, or attend the high school or middle school or Bakerfield Elementary, all within the barrier protected area, you feel differently. Certainly, highway noise is unwelcome and intrusive, and it's not just in more urbanized areas like central Aberdeen. Almost anywhere near a busy highway is going to have its share of continuous noise from the traffic, particularly from late fall to early spring when leaves are off most of the trees.
But is noise a new problem for Aberdeen and Route 22, or the Thruway as many of us have come to know it? We suspect not. This stretch of highway is approaching 50 years old. Sure, traffic is heavier today than in the late 1960s, but you'll find that everywhere you go in Harford County, not just Aberdeen.
Were the barriers necessary because, this being a BRAC-related project, there was a thought about increasing traffic volumes between I-95 and the Proving Ground gate having a deleterious impact on the neighborhood? If so, maybe the state highway planners should have asked the folks whose back yards will be walled off from the highway? Or did they?
We don't recall this issue ever coming up during the various informational meetings held about the intersections project, but then maybe we weren't paying enough attention. Or, perhaps there was so much attention paid to those 18 families who lost their homes because of the highway construction, that the impact on those whose homes weren't demolished, but will instead be walled off from the highway – and the community – was lost in the moment.
While it's probably far too late in this game to complain, there's no harm in asking that the next time highway planners decide to start walling off neighborhoods, they be a little more forthcoming about it.
There's been a lot not to like about the Route 22 project, from the time-consuming traffic delays to the uprooting of many people who had lived in their homes for decades to the sheer cost for something that may not have been so necessary, after all.
Add to all this the noise walls, and we really must wonder, and not for the first time, how much benefit Harford County got from BRAC? No doubt it's better than the alternative of losing defense-related activities, but it's far from being the utopia that was touted.