MOUNT AIRY - Planning for rapid population growth can be challenging enough.

Throw in the accompanying traffic increases and you're likely to see town planners scrambling for the aspirin bottle.

Last week, the Planning Commission reviewed a study that projects traffic volumes on town streets through 1999.

The results?

"Startling," said Chairman Fred Goundry. "That's the only word."

Traffic volumes will double and triple on some town streets by the end of the century, and balloon more than sevenfold on at least one other, said a study conducted by the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments, a state agency specializing in regional planning for the metropolitan area.

"It's mind-boggling," Goundry said. "I was really surprised."

The study projected: *An increase of daily traffic from the current 2,530 vehicles to 20,830 in 1999 on Twin Arch Road.

*A daily increase on the western portion of Watersville Road from 2,020 to 12,250 vehicles.

*A jump from 4,780 vehicles to 13,140 on Ridgeville Boulevard between Ridge Road and Main Street.

*A traffic increase on Route 27 between Watersville and Twin Arch roads from 9,350 to 27,500 vehicles.

*And an increase from 5,200 vehicles to 10,100 on Prospect Road.

"Today's Mount Airy people are used to driving with much space between cars," said Eugene Bandy, manager of transportation analysis for the regional council.

"As soon as you add a traffic light, things start to slow down and people view it as congestion and as a problem," he said.

Much of the increase in traffic volume is expected to stem from development projects in Mount Airy, a town where the population has doubled since 1970.

"There's so much growth being planned, and that's where the (traffic) impact will be," said Judith Rabb, a private consultant who the town contracts to handle Mount Airy planning.

The commission is poring over traffic projections as part of its update of the town master plan, a map for growth and development that is revised every 10 years. At a work session last week, planners discussed ways to help absorb the impact of increased traffic.

Goundry listed three road improvement projects that he called "imperative" to keeping road capacity ahead of traffic volume: adding two lanes to a portion of Route 27; extending Center Street to Route 27; and completing the planned Rising Ridge Road from Prospect Road to Ridgeville Boulevard, to offer an alternative to Main Street through downtown.

Will the town be able to come up with an effective traffic management plan?

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Goundry said.

Bandy, of the regional council, said the growing traffic volume confronting Mount Airy is typical of suburban communities surrounding Baltimore. He said more communities are gathering traffic projections to help plan for future development.

"It's a tool to use in making decisions, to show that if you add this development, this is what's going to happen," Bandy said. "That can be the hardest part: How much development are we talking about?"

Bandy said that careful planning is the most effective means of managing significant increases in traffic volume.

"It's important that development be concentrated," he said. "Stringing it out doesn't really help. A mall is probably one of the best things from a transportation standpoint."

Goundry said, "What is the wisdom of permitting the development to continue without adequate roads in place?"

Last week the commission also discussed including a historic district within the master plan, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.

A historic district comprising several blocks of the downtown area was mapped out in recent years, but never implemented. The district could be used as a guide for downtown property owners who want to maintain the historic character of their buildings.

Some municipalities, including Uniontown in Carroll, have enacted mandatory historic district ordinances that require property owners to gain a commission's approval of renovation plans for buildings within the district.

Goundry said he thought such restrictions were excessive, but thinks a set of guidelines could be useful in helping preserve the historic flavor of downtown.

"If a building is going to be preserved, it has to be up to the building's owner," he said.

Rabb said establishing a historic district would help property owners become eligible for state loans and tax credits for renovations that maintain a building's original appearance.

Copyright The Baltimore Sun 1990

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