The Frederick County Council discussed and reviewed county staff’s recommendations for Frederick County’s Annual Transportation Priorities. While many projects appear on the list, the widening of MD 194 to and through Walkersville drew much of the discussion.
The staff proposed priorities under consideration listed the upgrade of MD 194 as the county’s number one priority for secondary highways for county. They listed heavy congestion during rush hour and a higher than average rate of collisions as reasons for the priority.
The area under consideration is the stretch of MD 194 from 26 to Devilbiss Bridge Road, which would be a logical termination as required by federal regulations. Early suggestions in the report list a divided highway, but staff elaborated that does not mean a highway like U.S. 15 with a speed limit of 55 MPH. If the state funds the proposal, the project planning could call for a more urban divided boulevard with lower speeds.
Former resident of Walkersville, George Rudy spoke to raise awareness of the traffic hazards at Crum Road and MD 194. He pushed for recognition that MD 194 is no longer a bypass, but a main street that goes through the Town of Walkersville.
Mr. Rudy has been contacting many residents, elected and appointed officials, and businesses in Walkersville to be involved in this process.
Harold W. Peterson of Walkersville questioned the wisdom in putting MD 194 above MD 75. He stated that the traffic congestion is not as bad as reported, and that this is due to a piece of ground that “may be developed.” He discussed past hearings that looked at expanding the road up to Walkersville High School. Mr. Peterson expressed frustration with the development along MD 26 within the City of Frederick causing much of the traffic congestion.
Walkersville Burgess Ralph Whitmore spoke on behalf of the Town of Walkersville. He stated that the Town had no consensus. He personally feels that there are significant issues that need to be addressed. He pointed to Calvary Assembly of God’s entrance, Fountain Rock Road, and Crum Road. Mr. Whitmore questioned the need to include the road all the way to Devilbiss Bridge Road.
Ron Burns, Traffic and Transportation Engineering Supervisor, advised that by putting this on the priority list we can actually discuss the needs. Right now, there is no funding to even discuss what the community wants to see and what is needed. In response to questions about why the area extends to Devilbiss Bridge Road, Mr. Burns said that they are not recommending a dual-highway that far. The point is to include the entire area to address needs through the Town of Walkersville.
Jim Gugel, Planning Director, provided history on the project. In the 1990’s, the State of Maryland looked at widening up to Walkersville High School, but the Town of Walkersville wanted to go to Devilbiss Bridge Road. He added that by asking to include the entire stretch from MD 26 to Devilbiss Bridge Road allows for a discussion of the needs for the entire stretch, and does not mean that the road will be widened all the way to Devilbiss Bridge Road.
After complaints by citizens in other parts of the county and by Council Member Tony Chmelik about MD 75 taking second priority to MD 194, Council Member Jessica Fitzwater asked for clarification as to how the decision was made to put MD 194 over MD 75. Mr. Burns explained that the county is not ready in planning and financing to address MD 75, and MD 194 has a much higher accident rate. They feel that MD 194 could be built within five to ten years, but MD 75 does not.
Council Member M.C. Keegan-Ayer moved to approve the document as presented and forward public comments to the County Executive. Council Member Fitzwater seconded the motion. During discussion, Council Member Billy Shreve proposed switching priorities of MD 194 and MD 75. Council Member Tony Chmelik made a motion to amend the motion to state such a recommendation, but the motion failed. Eventually, the County Council approved the plan as submitted with Council Members Shreve and Chmelik opposed.