Of the eight possible sites for a new and larger park-and-ride at Interstate 95 and Route 152 in Joppa, state transportation officials' favorite is the least popular with residents.
The preferred site is a nearly 10-acre wooded parcel just north of the interstate.
"That is 10 acres of pristine woods that is our buffer from 95," said Vince Rabenau of Joppa during an informational meeting last week at the Joppa-Magnolia Fire Hall.
The property, owned by Trinity Baptist Church, provides "a sanctuary from the noise, pollution and traffic," he said. "There are wetlands, wildlife and streams."
His wife, Chris Rabenau, criticized the plan that does not consider widening Route 152.
The Maryland Transportation Authority is studying capacity and safety improvements for the 16 miles of the interstate from Route 43 in White Marsh to Route 22 in Aberdeen. Although no decision is expected until later this year, the most likely improvement will be to extend north the express toll lanes, now under construction in both directions from I-895 in Baltimore to Route 43. Known as the Section 100 Project, it is scheduled for completion in 2012.
The Section 200 Project, most of which is in Harford County, would not begin until then. Many land conservation groups oppose the next phase, calling it unnecessary and saying it will encourage sprawl.
"We are essentially moving forward as if that will happen," Melissa R. Williams, planning manager, said of the Section 200 Project. "If we do nothing, there will be a failure of a mainline corridor."
Widening the interstate will make it necessary to improve four interchanges in Harford. Officials reviewed potential park-and-ride sites with the crowd of about 100 and detailed recent improvements to the current lot, which was expanded by 100 spaces to 316 last year.
The lot is already the most used in Harford County. Most of the drivers carpool because the lot is not accessible to mass transit buses.
The lot will not be adequate if plans to widen I-95 move forward, officials said.
A new lot would need about 350 spaces, with enough land to expand to 500. Ample lighting and covered bus stops would also be installed. No costs have been set, officials said.
Residents pushed for two sites farther north on Route 152 as well as several on the south side of the interstate, all of which met the minimum requirement of eight acres.
But officials insisted the preferred site is the most convenient with the most visibility.
"Most of the daily traffic comes from the north," Williams said. "It makes the most sense to be on the north side of 95. And, visibility equals usage. There are examples of that throughout the state."
Several residents, who have met numerous times with state officials, said their suggestions for the interstate and a parking site have been ignored.
"We want public transportation, not extra lanes," said Patti Dallam of Joppa. "We feel we are just tilting at windmills."
Charles Brockmeyer, who has lived in Joppa for nearly 50 years, said the state is taking authority away from the people most affected by the improvements. He recalled numerous developers' failed attempts to build on the preferred site because of wetlands.
"They won't listen to our logic," he said. "They are determined to put it close to 95. Why do they have these meetings, if they don't want our opinion?"
Many in the audience were displeased that state officials would not alter the format of the meeting to allow for group discussion. After reviewing the sites, planners moved to the back of the room to address individual questions.