Baltimore County completed the first phase of a $2.3 million road widening project in downtown Towson Tuesday that officials say will decrease traffic congestion at the intersection of Towsontown Boulevard and Osler Drive, near Towson University.
But residents who live near the project say they are upset about the location of the work. In addition, David Marks, who represents Towson on the Baltimore County Council, said today that he is upset about what he called a lack of public notice from Baltimore County officials that the work was scheduled to begin.
In a media release Tuesday, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced that the project is moving forward. The project includes widening Towsontown Boulevard, improving a traffic signal and adding sidewalks and retaining walls. The release said the first phase of construction was completed Tuesday. Construction began Sept. 22.
Towson University, Greater Baltimore Medical Center, Sheppard Pratt Health System and University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center are partners in the project and sharing some of its cost, according to the release.
"We appreciate the collaboration of these thriving Towson institutions as we all work together to bring a new vibrancy to downtown Towson," Kamenetz stated in the release. "This roadway improvement helps provide for the significant growth that continues in Towson."
The county will pay for 75 percent of the road expansion, while the college and the hospitals will share the rest of the cost, according to county officials.
Southland Hills Improvement Association President Paul Saleh said the project has been discussed for several years, and that the association's stance has always been that the road expansion should occur on the south side of Towsontown Boulevard, not the north side, which borders the neighborhood. But that's not what happened, Saleh said, adding that the work began without notice from the county. Residents woke one morning to find excavators and dump trucks near their back yards, he said.
"In that press release, Kevin Kamenetz is quoted as thanking the hospital and Towson University for their commitment, but there is no mention of the neighborhood that is being carved away to make room for the road," Saleh said.
Jenn Lohse, who lives at the end of Southland Court, directly behind the intersection, said she believes that county officials ignored the neighborhood's requests.
"Our neighborhood had pushed for a south side solution, where the burden of the expansion would fall on the properties of those who it most benefits," Lohse said, referring to the hospitals and university.
According to county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler, the expansion and placement of the new turn lanes is "dictated by environmental and drainage constraints."
Marks also has questioned the work, saying it came as a surprise to his office. The project has been discussed for half a decade, he said, but his understanding was that it was indefinitely postponed — until he suddenly saw the work occurring, he said.
"I'm very concerned about the lack of transparency and input on this project," Marks said.
He added that getting information about road projects from county officials is a recurring problem. He is talking with colleagues on the county council about what can be done legislatively to address that issue, he said.
Marks added that work is needed on the intersection, but that he would have preferred a more transparent process in beginning it.
Kobler said in an email that the "project has been discussed for years with the Towson 4 institutions and the community and is important to the university and hospitals and will ease traffic congestion for everyone."
She added that a community meeting was held in one of the adjacent property owner's homes, with Marks and the Department of Public Works' Traffic Engineering Division Chief. Kobler didn't have an exact date for that meeting. According to Lohse, the meeting occurred at her house. Neither she nor Marks could remember an exact date, but the meeting was held years ago, they said.
"We left that meeting with no definite consensus on a proposal," Marks said.
The first phase of work included widening Towsontown Boulevard and installing sidewalks west of Osler Drive on the south side of the street, according to the county. The next phase of the project will begin in May and continue through August, and includes installing retaining walls on the north side of Towsontown Boulevard east and west of Osler Drive, followed by a 16-foot roadway widening, which will allow a double left-turn lane on to Osler Drive, the county said.
"A traffic study completed by the Bureau of Traffic Engineering determined that double left turn lanes westbound and an exclusive right-turn lane eastbound were needed on Towsontown [Boulevard] at Osler Drive," Kobler said in an email.
The Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability reviewed and approved the project plan, she said, adding that the project was designed in 2009 and 2010.
Sheppard Pratt Health System spokeswoman Jessica Kapustin, along with a Towson University spokesperson, directed questions about the project to Baltimore County officials.