Abingdon council focuses on traffic issues, school bus routes

From traffic accidents to public transit, from school bus routes to the potential construction of a Walmart in their community, traffic and transportation were the main topics during Monday evening's meeting of the Abingdon Community Council.

Cynthia Hergenhahn, chair of the council, congratulated Capt. Jonathan Krass of the Harford County Sheriff's Office on Sheriff Jesse Bane's announcement earlier this year about Harford having the second-lowest crime rate in the state, after Carroll County.

"Where we will have a watchful eye is on traffic fatalities and accidents," she said.

More than 30 people were killed on Harford County roads in 2012, and about a third of that number have lost their lives so far this year.

The most recent fatality happened Saturday night when an Aberdeen man lost control of his car and crashed into another vehicle on Route 543 in the Creswell area.

Krass noted Monday that "traffic is always an issue with us because we are a bedroom community," with a large number of people traveling in and out of the county each day.

"We always are trying to do things better," he continued. "We try to keep a watchful eye on that."

Council members also expressed concerns with Harford County Public Schools' recent consolidation of school bus routes to save money.

Many students will have to walk to consolidated bus stops, which raised concerns for council members, especially regarding areas around busy roads such as Route 924.

Council member Joan Hamilton said she has already heard "rumblings" among Patterson Mill Middle and High School parents about safety risks for their children.

Krass noted that anywhere "children congregate there's a chance for problems," referring to the consolidated stops where students will gather to wait for their buses.

Route 924 is already heavily developed, and even more large-scale development is headed for the area around Route 924 and Plumtree Road, including a Walmart with a grocery section, and a MedStar Health medical facility.

Jamie Lynn Meier, legislative aide for County Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti, whose district includes Abingdon, said the MedStar project was approved July 11, but Walmart must still address "deficiencies" in its preliminary plan and site plan before they are approved.

The Traffic Impact Analysis for the Walmart is also still under review, she said.

Meier said Lisanti placed funding in the county's 2014 budget to study traffic issues in the section of the Route 924 corridor which would be affected by the new commercial growth.

Developers are seeking county approval, in separate proceedings with separate developers, to build the Walmart on 17 acres east of Route 24, and a 198-unit apartment complex on 17.54 acres west of Route 24, both south of Plumtree.

Both projects have yet to receive final approval form the county, but a zoning hearing examiner ruled in favor of the apartment complex earlier this month. The decision must still be approved by the County Council sitting as the Board of Appeals, and that decision is subject to appeal in the courts.

The Evergreen Business Trust owns both parcels, and County Councilman Dion Guthrie, whose district also includes Abingdon, warned the audience and community council members that more land in that area can be developed.

"How are we going to handle the traffic [from development] when we can't handle the traffic we have now?" Guthrie asked.

Guthrie's colleague on the council, Jim McMahan, introduced legislation earlier this year, Bill 13-16, to subject development in high-density B3 zones, which is the zoning for the land where the Walmart would be built, to a stricter approval process.

The bill died after the council members declined to take a vote, citing the risk of litigation for the county.

"I wouldn't want the county to get sued over it because it's a feel-good bill," said Guthrie, who had supported McMahan's efforts.

He said McMahan could bring a revised bill before the council this fall.

Bus transit

Sharon Lipford, deputy director of the Harford County Department of Community Services, made a presentation on the programs and services offered by her department, including the Harford Transit LINK bus service.

Donna Copenhaver, recording secretary for the council, noted parents of children who attend William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School, off of Philadelphia Road in Abingdon, are often unable to attend events at the school, even parent-teacher conferences, because they do not have their own transportation and the buses do not run during evening hours.

The bus schedule for the routes serving the Abingdon, Bel Air, Edgewood and Joppatowne areas shows buses running from 6:30 a.m. to 6:25 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Lipford noted Harford County is surrounded by jurisdictions such as Baltimore and Baltimore County which have much larger mass transit systems and the funding to match them.

She said Harford must "build ridership" to increase its funding for greater service.

Hergenhahn suggested having the school's Parent-Teacher Association write a grant application to obtain funding to expand bus service; Copenhaver and Lipford agreed.

Copenhaver said the service could be available on nights when parents must get to a school event.

Lipford said "a small target area" in the William Paca/Old Post road district could work.

Harford aging task force

Meier said Lisanti is hoping to introduce legislation before the County Council this fall to create an aging task force, to increase awareness of issues affecting the county's senior citizen population, which she said is "growing exponentially."

"No one really understands how big an issue this is," Meier said.

An Aging Summit was held in mid-April, led by County Executive David Craig, State's Attorney Joseph Cassilly and the sheriff.

Meier said Monday the county does not have "the resources and the people" to handle matters such as the mental state of seniors with dementia and crimes against senior citizens.

"[We're] trying to develop resources and develop a plan to help promote awareness in the county," she said.

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