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County paving dusty remnants of its rural past

The Baltimore Sun

Liz Budge relishes the rustic quality of the dirt road that leads to her family's tree-shaded home in Union Mills. She worries that a county plan to pave Turkeyfoot Road will bring more traffic at higher speeds.

On the other hand, her husband, Randy, eagerly awaits saying goodbye to gravel. The dust and dirt from the road sully his car, and the gravel washes away during rainstorms, making the road prone to potholes.

"They do more maintenance down here than they would have to if they pave it," Randy Budge said, looking down at Turkeyfoot Road from his steep driveway. "Hopefully, they can widen it and maybe straighten it out some. They've paved just about everything else" in the county.

In fast-growing Carroll County, about 90 miles of dirt and gravel roads still exist, part of the network of about 1,000 miles of byways the county maintains. Several paving projects have been funded and are scheduled for construction in the coming years. The county commissioners have approved $1.8 million for paving a one-mile stretch of Turkeyfoot Road from Route 97 to Cherrytown Road, north of Westminster.

The project will grade and widen the road to 20 feet, install drainage ditches and pave over the surface with hot mix asphalt. Additional land might be acquired for the road improvements, county officials said. Construction is scheduled to begin next spring and could be completed by late summer. The designs include plans to straighten out the snaking road and improve visibility at the busy intersection with Route 97.

Another more rural, nearly two-mile stretch of Turkeyfoot Road should eventually be paved in a less elaborate project by local county crews, said Benton H. Watson, chief of roads operations.

The Budges and county officials say that many Turkeyfoot Road residents support the project. But some still favor the rural touch that a country road made of dirt or gravel imparts. "There are some people who believe this road must be paved, and their next-door neighbor will be saying, 'Don't you dare pave this road,'" county budget director Ted Zaleski said.

Meanwhile, county crews are experimenting with an in-between approach, using millings from old, ground-up blacktop to fill potholes and bare patches as part of the maintenance of some unpaved roads, Watson said. The recycled blacktop binds to the dirt roads particularly well during the hot summer months, Watson added.

"There's a cost savings, plus for the most part, it stays a little better," he said. "We're experimenting with it a bit just to see how it holds up."

The Bureau of Roads Operations has received $1.2 million in recent years to pave and maintain some of the smaller gravel roads. An additional $450,000 for maintenance has been included in the county's proposed six-year capital plan for next fiscal year.

About three miles of gravel roads were paved last summer, Watson said. Despite the dwindling number of unpaved roads in the county, it likely will be years before they are gone for good, Watson said. Fifteen years ago, about 200 miles of roads remained unpaved, said J. Michael Evans, county director of public works.

Some Turkeyfoot Road residents have been waiting 20 years for the reconstruction. The project was first funded and designed in the mid-1980s. But the need to acquire adjacent land for widening delayed plans, said Deborah Butler, chief of the engineering bureau for the county Public Works Department.

Liz Budge has seen gravel and sediment wash into Little Pipe Creek, which runs under and then alongside the road. And stagnant water sits in muddy, pond-like puddles beside the road, which has no shoulders or drainage ditches.

"With gravel roads, there's a maintenance issue with run-off, with the surface washing away," Butler said. "Once it's paved, that won't be an issue anymore. We're addressing all the environmental concerns: wetland impacts, storm water management and forestation issues."

It's the intersection with Route 97 that troubles Liz Budge. She worries that once Turkeyfoot is paved, higher-speed drivers will make that point even more treacherous.

"You take your life in your hands every time you pull out on it," said Budge, a special education teacher at Shiloh Middle School.

Despite the maintenance benefits, Budge said she doesn't think it's worth altering Turkeyfoot. Her two high school-age children will be getting behind the wheel before long.

"The idea of paving the road so that cars don't get dirty I don't think is worth the lives that might be lost," she said. "I honestly don't think it's going to be any safer if you can drive faster on it."

Trees and a steep ravine block the view of Turkeyfoot drivers turning left onto Route 97 going toward Westminster. Butler said those concerns would be addressed.

The designs for the Turkeyfoot Road project will be on display at a meeting at Charles Carroll Elementary near Union Mills at 7 p.m. April 11.

County paving

Funded gravel road paving projects to be completed

Road Miles Cost

Albert Rill Road 1.24 $2 million

Falls Road 1.61 $700,000

John Pickett Road 1.67 $2.5 million

Turkeyfoot Road 1.03 $1.8 million

Priority paving projects yet to receive funding

Road Miles

Bethel Road 1.41

Indian Valley Trail 1.27

Old Westminster 0.9

Pinch Valley 1.1

Weaver Lane 0.6

Wine Road 1.33

[Source: County bureau of roads operations and budget office.

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