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The Aegis
The Aegis Opinion

Can you kill highway projects Harford was never getting in the first place? [Editorial]

Maryland's transportation scoring system, which critics have derided as the "road kill bill," might have an impact on Harford County's highway needs, but we suspect that's mostly political hot air, sort of like the debate over scoring itself.

What we do know is the recent back and forth between the Republican governor, Larry Hogan, and the Democratic controlled General Assembly, over who has the power to determine funding for transportation projects points up this sad fact: Road kill bill or not, the impact on Harford is negligible because the projects allegedly involved were never coming in the first place.

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One of the two local projects that the governor's office says is impacted by the scoring system to the point where it may never get built is widening the Bel Air Bypass (Route 1) to four lanes, two in each direction. You will need all 10 fingers and all 10 toes and still won't have enough digits to count the years this project has been talked about, promised, recommended and, most important, needed. We have an extremely unsafe, nearly 60-year-old highway between Fallston and Hickory that was designed to 1950 standards and has received so many piecemeal "upgrades," it may be reaching the point where adding one lane in each direction won't be adequate from either a traffic management of safety standpoint.

Consider the second project supposedly impacted by the road kill list: a roundabout at Route 7 (Old Philadelphia Road) and Route 159 (Perryman Road) south of Aberdeen. Far less expensive to build than widening the Bypass by a factor of multiple millions, this improvement is needed to facilitate the flow of traffic – trucks and employee vehicles – in and out of the Perryman industrial area, one of the region's busiest and one expected to keep growing.

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Presumably, the roundabout would be a prelude to rebuilding/widening the rest of Route 159 down to Chelsea Road and possibly beyond.

Here's the problem with this project – it's a stop gap, the kind of work that has been done to the Bel Air Bypass over the years for expediency and to spend as little money as possible.

Three decades ago when Harford County began laying the groundwork for Perryman's development through zoning and land use decisions on thousands of acres of farmland, it didn't take a transportation planning genius to understand the area is virtually landlocked (surrounded by water on two sides, Aberdeen Proving Ground on the third) with but a single way in and out – OK one and a half ways if you count Spesutia Road to Route 40. In the ensuing years, there was talk about bridging part of the northern Bush River estuary to connect the south end of the Peninsula with Route 40 via the Route 543 interchange – which probably would have run hundreds of millions of dollars and required navigating all sorts of environmental issues.

Another alternative was to build what would amount to a southern bypass of Aberdeen by extending Route 715 north to the vicinity of the I-95/Route 22 interchange, while also making aforementioned improvement along Route 159. That hasn't gone anywhere, either.

Missing from the road kill list altogether, in case you didn't notice, are future solutions to Harford's two most congested stretches of highway: Route 22 between Fountain Green and Aberdeen, and Route 152 between Fallston/Upper Cross Roads and I-95. Both need to have additional lanes added in each direction. Neither is in the proverbial ballpark where state highway planners are concerned.

The politicians may bicker back and forth about how the new scoring system favors big counties over small and mass transit over highways but when it comes to Harford County and its long-standing, long-suffering state highway needs, road kill amounts to beating a dead horse that was hauled away to the rendering plant eons ago.


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