If planners who unveiled the final draft of the Harford County master transportation plan last week have one bit of advice to residents, it's to start changing their driving habits.
A rapidly growing population, along with stiffer federal regulations on air quality and transportation funding, will force people to look for alternatives to hopping in the family minivan several times a day, they say.
"We're trying to promote the idea that you don't have to get in your car and drive to go a block and a half," said senior transportation planner Peter Gutwald during a presentation of the plan developed by the county planning and zoning department.
Mr. Gutwald and Stoney E. Fraley, the county's chief of comprehensive planning, summarized the transportation plan at a public forum Thursday night at Southampton Middle School.
More an outline of general needs and priorities than a list of specific transportation projects, the plan will serve as a policy guideline for reviewing road improvements, public transit needs and enhancements until the year 2010.
The plan will be presented in final form to the County Council for approval later this year.
It was developed in response to a County Charter mandate that the planning and zoning department develop a framework for future development in the county.
That framework, or master plan, was first developed in 1977 and was later updated, as the Harford County Land Use Plan, in 1988. This is the first policy outline on transportation that has grown out of the earlier plans.
The plan focuses on four modes of transportation: highways, public transit, aviation and nonmotorized travel. Its recommendations range from the general -- "plan a network of bikeway and pedestrian facilities to connect residential, commercial, employment, recreational and school sites -- to the very specific, including 21 roads on a priority list for expansion or improvement.
But perhaps most significant about the plan, county officials reminded citizens, is that besides the traditional idea of transportation improvements -- meaning building bigger roads and more of them -- the plan supports more efficient use of transportation options, including buses, rail service and ride-sharing.
Those alternatives are critical to a population that has nearly quadrupled in the last 40 years, they said.
Harford County's population has grown from 52,000 in 1950 to 198,000 in 1993. Of the 85,000 residents who commute to work every day, the report says, only 1 percent use mass transit.
In addition, newly enacted federal legislation, namely the Clean Air Act of 1990 and the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991, mandate that highway planners find alternatives to the automobile as the sole source of getting from one place to another.
As a result, the transportation plan recommends improvements in the MARC train schedule, intra-county bus service, inter-suburban transport, express buses to Baltimore and park and ride services as alternatives to increasing road capacity.
"We can't afford to continue to build four- , five- and six-lane highways to deal with one- and two-hour periods of congestion," said Mr. Fraley about rush-hour traffic. He added that it is not just workers on their daily commute who are clogging the roadways.
"It's non-work-related trips that have dramatically increased," he said, "like going to your son's soccer game in the evening or going out to get a pizza for dinner. Some people take five trips in the car in one night."
"We have to change our habits, but we're not going to change them tomorrow or even next year," said Mr. Fraley. "Meanwhile, we have to manage congestion."
As a result, he said, road widening will continue to be at least a part of the solution to dealing with the increased traffic.
In fact, the most specific recommendations in the plan include a list of 21 highway projects that are considered "priority" needs.
At the top of the list are the widening of Route 22 to at least four lanes between Shamrock Road and Route 543 and the widening of Route 24 from I-95 to Route 755. Mr. Fraley said the state will begin soliciting bids for the Route 22 project this fall and for the Route 24 project early next year.
Both projects have received funding approval.
Other recommendations in the transportation plan include:
* Incorporating pedestrian/bicycle facilities in the design, reconstruction or initial construction of roadways when appropriate.
* Increasing the frequency of the intra-county bus service
* Increasing MTA service to more commuter parking lots around the county.
* Assisting employers of 100 or more to develop car-pooling plans to increase auto occupancy rate by at least 25 percent as mandated by the Clean Air Act.