Baltimore County Councilman Kenneth Oliver (D-4th) recently called for the Baltimore County Council to delay acting on a request to rezone the Solo Cup property site to give state transportation officials time to complete two studies on how to relieve the already overwhelming traffic congestion along Reisterstown Road.
"Until state highway officials have adequate time to study, it would be premature for Baltimore County to rezone a key remaining manufacturing property and suddenly create 400,000 square feet of new retail space along the Reisterstown Road corridor," Oliver said. "We should not rush this request through the Comprehensive Rezoning Process and rubber stamp our approval. When we are talking about potentially committing tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize the traffic from a developer's proposed private project, we need to fully understand the facts and the costs."
During the recently concluded 2012 General Assembly session, Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-11th) persuaded legislators to agree to a $500,000 comprehensive state study of traffic along the Reisterstown Road corridor.
And recently, the Maryland State Highway Administration announced that it would put up $1.1 million to design and engineer improvements to accommodate the existing traffic congestion at Reisterstown Road and Painters Mill Road.
The proposed design work - which does not factor in the significant increase in traffic that would be generated from the Solo Cup project - is expected to take two years, with construction work estimated to cost between $15 million and $20 million in additional taxpayer dollars.
"We owe it to the residents and businesses of the area, as well as the taxpayers of Baltimore County and the state of Maryland, to ensure that we take the time to go through a full and complete process on the Solo Cup property and make the best possible choice," Oliver said. "Before we can have a complete process, we need to give state transportation officials the time to complete their work.
Noting that state highway officials estimate that the construction work would cost tens of millions of dollars, Oliver emphasized that the tight fiscal conditions of both the state and Baltimore County leave it uncertain if, or when, the taxpayer dollars might be available to actually do the construction that will be called for in the engineering and design study.
The uncertainty over the state's gasoline tax makes it even more difficult to project state transportation funding. In public statements, the developer has pledged only a fraction of what state officials estimate might be the total estimated cost of road upgrades.
"In the best case scenario, if the taxpayer dollars can be found for this work, we should not expect the road upgrades to be in place for at least four or five years," Oliver said. "And while I wish that I could guarantee that our economy will turn around within the next two years and our state and county budgets will again have taxpayer dollars available, I can't make that guarantee."
Oliver urged his Baltimore County Council colleagues to hold off on approving the rezoning request for the Solo Cup site, until the state studies are completed on traffic crowded Reisterstown Road.