Responding to community concerns over a plan to create a school bus depot in Jacksonville, Baltimore County highway engineers will conduct a traffic study in the area before the project moves forward, a county official said.
The bus depot was put on a list of construction projects last year after school officials asked county officials if they had a place where buses for Jacksonville Elementary, Carroll Manor Elementary School, Cockeysville Middle and Dulaney High School could be parked, said Donald I. Mohler III, a county spokesman.
But in recent weeks, the project has come to the attention of some residents of Jacksonville, site of a large gasoline leak this year.
The proposed depot site, formerly a Nike missile base, is behind the senior center on Paper Mill Road. Public works employees now use the location to practice driving the department's vehicles, Mohler said. A 5,000-gallon gasoline tank and a 10,000-gallon diesel fuel tank to refuel the buses would be located aboveground, Mohler said.
"Its industrial use made it a logical choice for a bus lot," said Mohler, adding that the school buses are now often parked in residential areas where the drivers live. "Everyone, especially those with schoolchildren, agrees that a bus lot is needed in Jacksonville."
Still, he said, County Executive James T. Smith Jr. understands the community's concern. "They've been through a lot," said Mohler. "They have every right to be wary of things going on their community."
Mike Davis, a Jacksonville resident, likens the bus depot plan to proposing to locate a chemical plant on New York's contaminated Love Canal.
To locate a facility where buses would fill their gas tanks "within the half-mile containment area for a 25,000-gallon fuel spill, to me, is just preposterous," said Davis, who moved to the area several years ago.
In addition to the fuel spill from an Exxon station that was detected in February, the northern Baltimore County community has also had to contend with contamination from the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether, commonly known as MTBE.
And some residential wells near the former Nike base where the bus depot is proposed were contaminated by a degreasing agent that had been used at the site.
Residents and businesses in the area rely on well water.
"Given the experience we've had with MTBE leaks and the Exxon spill, this community is not happy" that fuel would be stored at the site, in aboveground tanks or not, said Glen A. Thomas, president of the Greater Jacksonville Association. But, he said, "People are as concerned about the traffic on a rural state highway as they are about the potential for further pollution."
About 16,000 vehicles pass daily through the intersection known as Four Corners, where Jarrettsville Pike meets Paper Mill Road to the west and Sweet Air Road to the east, according to the State Highway Administration. The highway administration considers that crossroads a failing intersection during the evening rush hour.
Davis and others worry about the additional trips that would be generated by the drivers and their buses coming and going from a depot. "The road wasn't meant to be handling what it is now," Davis said.
Several community leaders, including Thomas, spoke at the county school board meeting last week, hoping that the school officials could pressure the county officials to find an alternate location.
Mohler said that the buses wouldn't be coming and going at the normal commuter rush times, because high school students are in school by 7 a.m.
Although he stopped short of saying that the county was reconsidering the project, Mohler said that the county's budget officer would meet with community groups once the traffic study was complete.
Councilman T. Bryan McIntire said he had received many e-mails and calls from residents concerned about the depot's potential impact. He said he also has questions about how the parking areas for the buses would be designed to limit flooding and erosion.
"I understand why people are upset," McIntire said. "I'm trying to get all the facts."