Maryland's secretary of transportation arrived in New Windsor yesterday with news of a $3.4 million bypass, a road that would relieve truck traffic, enhance safety and cut down the noise in the western Carroll County town of 1,400.
The persistent background noise from hefty 18-wheelers cranking gears, spewing exhaust and trying to maneuver the turn at High and Main streets nearly drowned out Robert L. Flanagan's remarks. When a 55-foot- long milk hauler nearly jumped the curve behind his podium, Flanagan asked, "Did somebody arrange this?"
Residents in the audience could have told him curb-jumping happens every day.
"We call this the turnover spot," said Mayor Sam M. Pierce. "We have had everything in the world turn over here. The new road will eliminate turnover and make New Windsor a safer place."
Heavy trucks have ruined sidewalks, overturned and spilled their loads onto the streets and belched fumes into the air. Nearly 600 trucks a day rattle windows and rock the foundations of buildings along the route.
One stately Victorian close to the road was razed after its foundation was ruined. The town had to relocate its signature monument - a large metal fountain where horses once drank - after trucks repeatedly knocked it into the street. Trucks have shaved the cement block that replaced the fountain to about a third of its original size and have trimmed more trees than town maintenance crews, town officials said. A lumber truck spilled its load onto High Street last month and disrupted traffic for hours.
"There is not a five-minute time period during the daylight hours that a truck is not coming through town," said Ron Warehime, a town resident and volunteer firefighter.
When the Fire Department broke ground for its new headquarters on property near the town's old middle school, the state, at the urging of the town and county, revived the long-shelved bypass proposal.
"This project really started in the County Office Building as soon as the Fire Department got started on its new building," said Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr. "They had to have the best access possible."
Del. Donald B. Elliott, a Republican who represents Carroll and Frederick counties, said, "In my view, this project justified itself. It will mean safe access for the new firehouse and it will alleviate traffic."
High Street will be extended 1,000 feet, passing in front of the new fire station, and then curving around the school building to meet Route 75, a state highway that runs to Union Bridge. The road will have two 11-foot lanes and 5-foot shoulders on both sides that could also accommodate bicyclists.
"This town has changed little, but there has been growth in the surrounding environs," said Elliott, a 40-year town resident. "We have to accommodate that growth."
The newly expanded Lehigh Portland Cement Co. in Union Bridge has contributed to the increased truck traffic in both towns, he said.
"Right down the road in Union Bridge, you have the largest cement plant in North America and those heavy trucks come right through town," Elliott said.
Construction of the bypass will begin in about a year, Flanagan said. When the road opens, trucks can travel directly from Route 75 to Route 31, which is High Street. Main and High streets each now carry about 5,000 vehicles a day, according to state counts.
"This project will give you back your Main Street and remove 600 trucks a day from it," Flanagan said.
New Windsor's two-lane roads cannot handle the trucks that travel daily to Frederick or Westminster, town officials said. The parade of 18-wheelers, dump trucks and commercial vehicles begins at dawn and goes until dusk every weekday, hauling grain, milk, stone, cement - any transportable commodity - through town. Only the most adroit truckers can maneuver the turns at key intersections.
"If the driver takes the turn too sharp, or if he is top-heavy, he will upset," said Paul D. Denton, president of Maryland Midland Railway. "There is no room for error on these tight corners."
Flanagan told the crowd that the New Windsor bypass is the second road project funded in Carroll County this year. In May, state officials finalized plans to build the $70 million Hampstead bypass next year.
"We are looking at projects and deciding them on their merits," Flanagan said.