The utility trucks which have been seen along Moores Mill Road along Bel Air's eastern border in recent weeks should soon be departing, only to be replaced by construction equipment as Harford County gets set for a year-long widening and improvement project along a section of one of the busiest roads surrounding the county seat.
Crews with BGE, Comcast and Verizon have been relocating their respective utilities in advance of the first phase of construction, which is expected to begin in June. With the construction will come detours and delays, and the work starting this summer is just the beginning of a two-phased project.
The first phase involves nearly a mile of Moores Mill between Route 1 (North Hickory Avenue/Conowingo Road) and the traffic circle at Southampton Road.
Carlos Smith, project engineer with the Division of Highways and Water Resources in the Harford County Department of Public Works, said engineers have estimated it will cost $2.6 million.
Public Works officials plan to open the first phase construction bids in mid-April, Smith said last week. The contract would then have to be approved by Harford County's Board of Estimates.
"It's basically to address some of the geometric deficiencies [of Moores Mill Road]," Jeffrey Stratmeyer, chief engineer with DPW's Engineering Division, said.
The second phase involves the section between Route 1 and Route 924 (Rock Spring Road), about three quarters of a mile.
Smith and Stratmeyer said the county is still working to acquire property needed to widen the road in the second phase, as well as to receive funding authority in the county budget. As a result, a start date has not been set yet.
In late February during a board of estimates meeting, a board member and Smith discussed the time it has taken to acquire rights of way for the second phase, including from the owner of Bel Air Memorial Gardens, and the number of design contract additions that have resulted – six in all.
Smith said some of the holdup finally was resolved when the cemetery's ownership changed. He also gave his assurances no existing graves will have to be moved, nor will the county be buying any burial plots to accommodate the project.
Improvements to the first section of Moores Mill include widening by up to 10 to 12 feet, making the road 30 feet wide, and 36 feet in areas where a center turn lane will be provided, Stratmeyer said.
Stratmeyer and Smith also said a number of safety improvements will be constructed, including sidewalks, turn lanes and even three "splitter islands" in the middle of the road to serve as "traffic-calming devices."
The curve of Moores Mill near Harford Day School and the Heritage Woods apartment complex will be realigned, and Smith said the hill just west of the traffic circle at Southampton will be cut down by about 2 feet to "improve sight distance along the road."
The section of Moores Mill will be closed to through-traffic during some parts of the construction process, although access to homes, apartment and condominium complexes, businesses and schools and day care centers along the road will remain.
"The intent is to close the road for through-traffic but maintain access for the residents," Stratmeyer explained.
Detours will be available via Route 1, Route 22, Route 543, Henderson Road and Southampton Road, according to DPW.
Stratmeyer also said some improvements will be made on the east side of the intersection of Moores Mill and Route 1. Improvements have already been made on the west side of the intersection, near the businesses north and south of that side of the intersection.
Susan Harris, head of school for Harford Day School, said school officials have "been in close touch with the county since the project was first conceived."
"They've assured us that we'll always have access to our property," Harris said.
The school, whose 12-acre campus is right along where the phase 1 work will occur, serves 330 students in Pre-K through eighth grade, according to the Harford Day website.
"We think it will be a wonderful improvement for Moores Mill Road, both for our school and for Southampton," said Harris, who referred to Southampton Middle School, just east of the traffic circle at Southampton Road and Moores Mill.
Wheel Road work
The construction work on Moores Mill is not the only road improvement planned by Harford County for the greater Bel Air area.
Five months of work on East Wheel Road between Laurel Bush and Patterson Mill Roads, wrapped up late last November, and the members of the county's Board of Estimates approved a $1.5 million contract for improvements to Wheel between Cedar Lane and Glenangus Drive last week.
Stratmeyer said the improvements to Wheel include widening the road, improving drainage, "flattening out" some of the curves and improving "sight distance" for drivers.
County residents can keep up with improvements to Moores Mill Road, Wheel Road and other DPW projects on Facebook, by visiting the "Harford County DPW Bureau of Highway Engineering" page.