County grade of intersection near Green Spring Station questioned

How bad is traffic at Falls and Joppa roads in Baltimore County? It depends whom you ask, and the answer could determine whether the county allows additional growth near the intersection.

A dispute over the intersection near Green Spring Station, a collection of shops, restaurants and offices in Lutherville, was the subject of a County Council discussion last week. Council members are scheduled to vote Monday on the county's "basic services maps," which identify deficiencies in the county's sewer, water and transportation infrastructure plans.

Earlier this year, the county planning board recommended maintaining a grade of "F" for the intersection — meaning that it fails during peak hours — based on traffic measurements by the county's Department of Public Works.

For about a decade, the intersection had been labeled failing, a mark that prohibits additional development nearby until a passing grade is achieved. In late March, though, DPW conducted a new traffic count that bumped the intersection up to a "D." The change puzzled some residents, especially because the test was conducted on a day when some private schools in the neighborhood were not in session or dismissed students early.

Councilwoman Vicki Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat whose district includes Green Spring Station, also questioned the change — and the timing of the study. She pointed to a law crafted by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz when he was a councilman, requiring three intersections in the area be measured on a day when school is in session.

The scrutiny is not surprising, given some residents' long-standing concern about potential development at Green Spring Station, said DPW Director Ed Adams. Before this year, the intersection last was tested in May 2012, he said. It was tested again March 28, after workers had to cancel a March 27 measuring session because of an accident.

"This was part of being diligent, especially around an intersection that gets a lot of attention," Adams said "No matter what [grade] would have come in, people would've been looking at these numbers, more so than any other intersection I've got out there."

Executives with Foxleigh Enterprises, an owner of Green Spring Station, say they have no immediate plans to develop additional space. They say the grading of the intersections near their site has been politically charged for years. The company commissioned its own traffic study in April, and the intersection received a "C" in the morning peak hours and "D" in the evening, said Herb Fredeking, a Foxleigh principal.

A passing grade from the county "doesn't mean that we can immediately turn and develop and build something," Fredeking said. "It removes one hurdle, but it doesn't make anything automatic."

The firm also butted heads with Almond during the county's zoning review last year, when she made a decision that stopped plans for new retail space and renovations.

Several people, including planning board member Paul Miller, who lives in the area, testified at a council meeting last week in favor of keeping the grade an "F."

Miller questioned the timing of the Public Works Departments' most recent test of the intersection. The results were submitted to the County Council on April 1 — the day after Easter and the same day as the council's public hearing on the maps, he said.

"How would most people have known that a change in the maps had been introduced?" Miller asked.

The council is expected to vote on the updated maps at its legislative session Monday evening in Towson.

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