- The Washington Times - Friday, July 5, 2002

HAGERSTOWN, Md. In the age of superhighways, commuter rails and trains that go 240 mph, folks in rural Frederick County are slowing down.
A committee of residents whose homes are on unpaved roads are successfully lobbying the county to preserve what is left of the area's gravel and dirt roads.
The county commission has voted unanimously to forward a proposal that would save the last of the county's rural roads from tar. A public hearing likely will be scheduled in August, followed by a final commission vote.
"We've got to make commuter connections and get people to our businesses," said County Commissioner Rick Weldon. "But it's critically important to cling to aspects of life in this county that make life so appealing and so attractive."
This is especially critical when the county is developing so rapidly, Mr. Weldon said. There are only half as many unpaved roads in Frederick County as in 1995.
Back then, commissioners voted down a similar proposal to save dirt and gravel roads.
"Since then, the Department of Public Works has just been busily paving roads, some of which they have no business paving. Some of these roads are just magical," said Susan Hanson of Jefferson.
She is one of the activists fighting to halt the county's "stabilization" program, which surfaces several miles of dirt and gravel roads every year with tar. The program called for every road to be paved in 10 to 15 years.
Miss Hanson for 25 years has run a pottery and lived alongside a picturesque pond on "unstabilized" Poffenberger Road. The four-mile gravel road hosts an iron truss bridge over Catoctin Creek that has been included in the National Register of Historic Places since 1978.
In summer, the road is sheltered by a canopy of trees. Driving over it is like cruising on a washboard, and the road is wide enough for only one vehicle. When two cars meet, someone has to pull over.
"People go slower. They have to," Miss Hanson said.
But that's the point, she said.
"In our age of superhighways, we're constantly trying to get from point A to point B as fast as we can," she said. "And on some of these back roads, we're trying to say that there's something else besides getting from point A to point B."
Public Works supports "stabilizing" the roads, which covers the roads with tar but not asphalt, said department engineer Neal Spiller, a liaison to Miss Hanson's citizen committee.
Gravel roads are two to five times more expensive to maintain than tarred and paved roads, Mr. Spiller said.
"I don't really think you're losing the character of the road when you stabilize it," he said. "There's no center stripe down the road, you don't lose any trees to widening and there's no curb and gutter."
But county commissioners instead approved the pitch by Miss Hanson's committee to save 67 miles of roads. Those include unpaved roads as well as some that have been partially paved.
The Rural Roads Program still could change before it is passed by the county commission, but elected officials have sent a signal that they view the roads not just as a way to get from place to place, Mr. Weldon said. Like many of the rural residents, they see them as a way to preserve and show off Frederick County's heritage.
"You really get the sense you're far from civilization when you're on one of these roads," Mr. Weldon said.
A road included in the Rural Roads program still could be "stabilized" if a majority of the property owners on the road petition the county. A preserved road could be paved if county commissioners decide it's no longer safe if it continually washes out, for example.
Mr. Weldon said garbage trucks and buses have no trouble navigating the roads.
The roads saved by the program likely will have no special signs saying they are preserved paths.
The last thing Frederick County wants to do is draw more people, tourists included, to its rural roads, Mr. Weldon said.
"We're going to keep them the way they are," he said. "Otherwise, pretty soon you've defeated the purpose."

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