County Council delays decision on road closure


A decision on whether to permanently close Hanover Road, connecting Elkridge to Anne Arundel County across what Howard County officials deem a dangerous railroad crossing, was delayed yesterday after a County Council discussion -- but the road may be closed this fall as a test.

The issue has split the community, making what earlier seemed a consensus decision controversial.

The issue pits those worried about potential traffic from expanding Baltimore-Washington International Airport and an industrial park being built just east of the railroad tracks, against those who want the link kept intact. Opponents of the road closure led by resident Gail Sigel, insist that closing the road will worsen traffic by forcing vehicles back through the community to U.S. 1.

The council decision will postpone the vote that was scheduled for Monday on the issue, which is to be tabled.

"I support closure of Hanover Road," said area County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican, but he wants more information and a clearer plan for how to handle resulting traffic.

James M. Irvin, the county public works director, said the road needs to be closed to keep cars from traversing railroad tracks over which commuter trains travel. Anne Arundel planners do not object, as long as they are involved in creating alternative routes, said county spokeswoman Pam Jordan.

"Really, the issue is the rail crossing itself," Irvin said, noting that the county looked for ways to bridge the tracks or tunnel under them but could not find a spot. The narrow, winding roadway approaches the tracks, which are equipped with flashing red lights and automatic barriers, from an angle. "For us, it's an unsafe situation."

Irvin said his department proposed widening and straightening portions of the road several years ago to make it safer, but residents opposed that, preferring to see the road closed. The county thought it was following community wishes until last month when other residents became aware of the plan.

Under questioning from Merdon, Irvin said he would explore the legality of allowing pedestrians and bicyclists to cross the tracks after closing the road on the theory it would be safer to allow them access through gates for emergency vehicles than to have people crossing on their own.

Irvin also said a traffic survey taken during one week last summer while the road was closed for railroad crossing repairs is not trustworthy, because summer traffic is lighter and because drivers did not have time to change their routines. Some motorists may have driven to the crossing and turned back after finding it closed. They may have been counted twice.

Doing a longer survey in the fall when school is in session would give more accurate readings, Irvin said.

The idea to try a temporary closing came from council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat who agreed with Merdon's worries over what would happen to traffic in the community if Hanover Road is closed. Merdon said he wants a clear idea of how traffic will react, and a plan for how to manage it, before a final vote on closing the road.

"I don't feel confident taking that next step until we know what the impact is," he said.

A one- or two-month survey in the fall would not delay anything, Irvin said, because the county is waiting until completion of Hi-Tech Road, which will link the new industrial park to Route 100, before actually closing Hanover Road. That won't happen for at least a year, he said.

Community members who attended the meeting had mixed feelings.

"I think it's fair," said Donald McNamara, a Hanover Road resident who supports closing the road.

Hanover resident Michael Hurd pointed out that the neighborhood is served by a post office on the Anne Arundel side of the tracks.

Sigel said, "If they need more data, fine." She had noted the 2001 survey, which showed that while the crossing was closed, traffic moving west through Hanover toward U.S. 1 had doubled.

Brian Wilson, who owns an auto repair garage on nearby Montgomery Road, said he fears losing the business of people who work on the Anne Arundel side of the railroad tracks.

"It's just one step in the wrong direction," he said about the temporary road closing. For potential customers, "Out of sight, out of mind."

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