Residents seeking to save trees fight county over widening bridge

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Near a small bridge on a one-lane country road in Parkton, Ann Brunson has hung yellow plastic dinner plates on dozens of trees and bushes. On each plate she has written in black marker, "Save Me."

She and the residents along Dunk Freeland Road found out last week that the county plans to widen the bridge and move its path through a portion of Brunson's yard that includes more than two dozen trees and bushes, including a 100-year-old maple.

"I was taking a walk and noticed two people surveying the road, so I asked them what they were doing," Brunson said. "When they told me, I was shocked and thought, 'How come nobody told us?'

"I just can't see why they need to change the road," Brunson said. "There aren't any cars out here, and when there is a car, it's usually one of the 12 people who live on this road."

Along with the yellow plates, Brunson has posted signs on both sides of the bridge that say: "Help keep our country setting intact! Baltimore County is planning a 26' wide bridge here, destroying trees, shrubs, etc."

The current bridge is 20 feet wide and on a sharply curved section of the road. According to Brunson, the county's plan is to straighten the curve and widen the bridge to 26 feet.

James Arford, chief of the Baltimore County Bureau of Engineering and Construction, a division of the Department of Public Works, confirmed that that is one possible plan.

"The bridge is in poor condition and needs to be replaced," Arford said. "We've looked at a few different alignments using existing county right-of-way and this one seems the best."

Brunson acknowledges that because her land was subdivided in 1984, it is eligible for county upgrading. But she wonders about the wisdom of the project.

"Simply replacing the bridge would be fine. It was built in 1938, after all," Brunson said. "Even just widening the bridge a few feet would be fine. But does the road really need to change its path through 25 trees?"

Brunson said the road gets some traffic from vehicles cutting between Harris Mill Road and Bond Road, which are parallel and connected at various points, but that the traffic is relatively light because the area is mostly farmland.

Brunson has sought help from County Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, who represents the 3rd District, which includes Dunk Freeland Road.

"I support replacing the bridges that are defective," McIntire said, "but what I don't like is that they are widening the bridges and their approaches in order to get federal funding."

According to McIntire, a Republican, the county can receive federal funding for 80 percent of the cost of the project, but to qualify for the money, the bridge must be 26 feet wide.

"Their bridge has a traffic count of only 100 cars a day, and the locals even dispute that," McIntire said.

"What they don't need is a country road that turns into a superhighway that turns back into a country road."

But the decision isn't so easy, said Arford.

"This is a tough situation for us," he said. "We could be criticized for taking out those trees or for not taking advantage of the federal funds."

County officials say a decision could come as soon as today.

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