The state offered $3 million to improve the old part, but the county essentially said "no thanks" to the offer.
The old and new roads were planned to intersect just west of I-95, where the current Route 24 and the new Arundel Road, later to be known as Tollgate Parkway, would cross Relocated Route 24. Tollgate Parkway was being built by developers building residential communities between the end of South Tollgate Road to where it would intersect with Relocated Route 24.
The old 24 was expected to be a local service road, "carrying almost exclusively local traffic," no doubt an irony to many people who drive on Route 924 today and have cited its congestion as the principal reason a proposed Walmart should not be built at 924 and Plumtree Road.
Back then, the county executive, Habern Freeman, and the engineer, Olsen, were having a back and forth about the county's lack of interested in assuming responsibility.
"There is no logical reason why we would want to take it over," said Freeman, who also wanted assurances the $3 million would not only put the road in tip top shape, it would also correct "obvious deficiencies" at intersections and the possible need to widen it to three lanes.
Given how much money the state just put into the new road, Olsen shot back, the county should be more than willing to take over the old one.
"We've put over $20 million into the [Relocated Route 24] project and we're willing to spend $3 million more on the old road," Olsen said. "That really burns me when I hear that kind of talk."
29 years and counting
"It took 29 years to get Route 24 built" proclaimed a headline over a recount of a timeline of the project.
It all started in 1958, when the county requested a study of the possible relocation of Route 924 between Edgewood and Bel Air; a full study was requested in 1965.
In 1974, the county and state exchanged land at Heavenly Waters Park in Bel Air to address anticipated alignment problems for the future road.
By 1980, right-of-way acquisition had begun, design hearings were held and the final route was selected. A four-cent per gallon state gas tax hike was approved in the spring 1982 to pay for the project.
Ground was broken in April 1985 and construction began that spring.
In June 1987, a portion of the road opened so drivers could get to the new Maryland Motor Vehicles Administration Building that was constructed off West MacPhail Road.
Down the road
Route 24 is arguably one of the most congested roads in Harford County, especially during rush hour. What is typically a 10-minute drive on the 6-mile stretch between the Bel Air Bypass and I-95 during off-peak hours can take as long as 30 to 40 minutes in the morning or evening.
Most of the four-lane road was built with a 200-foot right-of-way that includes a 10-foot outside shoulder, a four-foot median shoulder and a 30-foot grass median. While there were no plans to add a third lane in each direction, the project engineer at the time said it was certainly a possibility, without expanding outside the right-of-way, as traffic increased over the next century.
There are, however, differing schools of thought on whether Route 24 will be widened any time soon.
Development in Harford has slowed in the last few years, Ward Properties' Martin said.
"I'm not sure you need to expand it unless you allow additional development. If you allow Walmart at Plumtree, you may have to see how 24 interacts with that development," he said, "but I'm just not sure I see the need for an entire revamping of Route 24 at this point."
Cox has the opposite opinion.
"It's gonna happen," he said, pointing out that the stretch from Marketplace Drive to just past Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, which opened in 2000, is already three lanes.
"That's what would happen all the way down," he added.
Cox's family has been in Harford County since the 1700s, and he was born on Edgewood Arsenal, now the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground. He's seen all three Route 24s – the one at VanBibber under the train track and over Winters Run (renumbered 755); the old 24 that became Route 924; and the new 24 that's 25 years old.
"All we can do is hope the legislature in the future can work to improve on what we did," Cox said. "I'm happy I was part of it and the future is a little different than it was in the 1700s. A new, new, new, new 24? Who knows? Anything can happen."