Building new roads and reconfiguring intersections might sound like progress to traffic-weary motorists, but the people who live near the projects often think their concerns about noise, pollution and declining property values go unrecognized.
Residents in the Timberview, Allview and Columbia communities say that they certainly felt that way. Determined to put an end to that, they invited elected officials over for a visit to experience a little of what they have to put up with every day.
In the case of Elkridge's Timberview, residents found sympathy and support for their request to dull the loud, constant drone of traffic on Interstate 95. Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer and County Executive Elizabeth Bobo, both Democrats, pledged to make up lost federal funds to build a $650,000 noise wall behind about 16 houses, effectively buffering the entire 40-home community from noise and exhaust fumes.
Allview and Columbia residents will have to wait a while longer to see whether their lobbying yields results. They are trying to cope with construction on Route 29 that is aimed at replacing at-grade intersections at Owen Brown Road and Seneca Drive with interchange overpasses by the end of 1992. Owen Brown Road will stop on either side of Route 29, and a new connection will link Broken Land Parkway on the east with Hickory Ridge Road and Little Patuxent Parkway on the west. The Seneca Drive intersection will be replaced.
Last week, residents in the affected communities walked along the 1.6-mile project with state highway engineers and state Del. Virginia M. Thomas (D-Howard) pointing out their concerns.
Homeowners asked for more plantings to shield them from traffic; some demanded noise walls. Others raised concerns about whether the project might cause local flooding because so much vegetation had been removed from the area. For the most part, residents got the same answer from Highway District Engineer Wayne R. Clingan: "We will go back and look at it again."
Even though the $23.1 million Route 29 project has been in the planning stages for years, residents said they could never really prepare themselves for how the project would change their neighborhood. Some homeowners on Amherst Avenue, for example, suddenly found themselves with a back-yard view of Route 29 traffic after road crews cleared half the 400-foot-wide woods that sat between them and the highway.
"The value of my property just did a nosedive," grumbled one resident.
Thomas said she hopes the meeting will help all sides to better appreciate the other's position.
"I always find it makes a difference when you actually make a field visit," Thomas said. "You can really experience what they are experiencing . . . . When you look at a map you can't appreciate what is really going to happen. But you come out here and see all the trees they knocked down and you say to yourself, 'Whoa.' "
"Whoa" is what Timberview residents said when I-95 was built behind their homes in the 1970s. The noise was bad enough then. It grew worse when the Fort McHenry Tunnel opened a few years ago, bringing more late night truck traffic by that stretch of highway, they said.
Residents say the noise is so loud they never open their windows during the summer. Outdoor barbecues are hardly an enjoyable event, and homeowners said the incessant noise is stressful.
"There are days when I say to myself, 'If only I had just a half hour of peace from this,' " community activist Barbara Kendrick told the governor at a news conference called to announce funding for the new noise wall.
Schaefer said he decided to make money available for the project after Bobo pledged to kick in $200,000. He also applauded the way Timberview residents pushed for action.
"The people in this community have genuinely been patient," Schaefer said. "They were persistent and they were relentless, but they were always polite."
Timberview residents were also crafty. They invited a host of local and state officials to a picnic a few months ago to allow the politicians to see for themselves what the problem was. It wasn't long after the community event that the lawmakers dashed off a letter to Schaefer asking that he look into the matter.
He did. He said he called highway department officials in to explain why the project had been delayed, and he had his driver take him to the neighborhood so he could hear the noise for himself. That trip persuaded him to work out a solution.
The county's contribution toward the project must be approved by the County Council. Budget Administrator Raymond S. Wacks said Bobo will ask the council to pay for the project out of the capital budget. He said money is available because some already approved projects cost less than expected and others are not proceeding as fast as planned.
"I like to solve local problems," Schaefer said about his role in the turnaround. "This is not a small problem. It is the biggest problem this community has."