Damaged Catonsville roads will be replaced but not improved, officials say

Baltimore County officials speak during a meeting on Thursday, Oct. 18 at Hillcrest Elementary School concerning the fate of Thistle Road and River Road in the Catonsville and Oella area.
Baltimore County officials speak during a meeting on Thursday, Oct. 18 at Hillcrest Elementary School concerning the fate of Thistle Road and River Road in the Catonsville and Oella area. (Courtesy Photo / Pete Fitzpatrick)

After months of uncertainty, Baltimore County officials announced Thursday night their intentions to rebuild Thistle and River roads in Catonsville to their pre-storm conditions after they were damaged by flooding in late May.

“We are not addressing any other issue other than bringing both River and Thistle back to life as quickly as we can,” Rahee Famili, Baltimore County’s highway division chief, told a standing-room-only crowd of about 200 people who turned out for a public meeting on Thursday night in the cafeteria of Hillcrest Elementary School.


A bridge on River Road was washed out during the flood, and Thistle Road was heavily damaged by erosion, with slopes below and above the road impacted. While the roads were closed or partially closed since the flooding, Hilltop Road was never shut down and has instead been accommodating extra traffic from the nearby roads.

At the public hearing, officials presented the plan for the roads and showed images and videos depicting the damage.

Portions of the Avalon area within the Baltimore County side of Patapsco Valley State Park remain closed almost four months after flooding and historic rainfall washed through Ellicott City, flooded the Patapsco River and damaged homes in Howard and Baltimore counties.

County officials say most of the repair costs likely will be covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and be completed by the spring or summer 2019.

Because the project is largely FEMA funded, Baltimore County officials said, the work cannot include enhancements or improvements, only a repair back to the roads’ pre-disaster conditions.

Steven Walsh, Baltimore County’s director of public works, said the county had not yet received a written confirmation from FEMA that the project would be funded by the federal government, but he was confident it was coming soon. If the project gets FEMA funds, they will cover f80 percent of the cost, leaving Baltimore County to pay for 20 percent.

Walsh did not have an estimate for the dollar amount the 20 percent represents.

To repair Thistle Road, the county is developing a contract with Geostabilization International, a Colorado-based firm that has a specialized system to stabilize road slopes without rebuilding the slopes.

The process involves drilling hollow tubes into the slope underneath a damaged road and then filling the tubes with grout. Then the slope is paved over and further supported by external measures.

This allows the construction of the road to take place faster than with traditional slope-rebuilding methods, and at a reduced cost, county officials said.

River Road will be repaired using traditional repair methods, Walsh said.

The roads’ reopening should make life easier for commuters who need to cross the Patapsco River to get between Howard and Baltimore counties. But the current plan to return both roads to their pre-storm state does not make satisfy everyone in the community.

Stephen Martin, who lives on River Road, said he would like to see the road improved with the addition of traffic-calming measures to make it less like a “drag strip” and safer for children.

Walsh said the department would consider future alternatives to improve River, Thistle and Hilltop roads, such as making them one way.

The money went to employees of a local cafe who lost their cars in the flood, a family whose home was temporarily deemed 'unsafe' and others.

But, Walsh said, the traffic pattern has not changed in the past because “there’s never been a historical consensus on making a big change.”


Resident Cindy Freeman, who lives off Hilltop Road, presented a petition with about 100 signatures to the county, asking officials to consider keeping Hilltop Road closed off during work on River and Thistle roads to prevent it from being overwhelmed.

“I think what we really want is for our road to be safe,” she said. “And I’m not hearing anything from anyone about how to make Hilltop safe during this period at least.”

Walsh said the county had not thought about that option and would take it into consideration.

Individuals looking for more information about the project or continuing updates can email the Department of Public Works at publicworks@baltimorecountymd.gov or call 410-887-3306. Residents can also sign up for newsletters sent by the county that provide information on public works projects by council district.

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