CECILTON — The last stop of Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy’s countywide listening tour was perhaps his most heated, as many Warwick residents criticized the inability of his administration to stem the tide of toll diversion-related traffic through their streets, leading some attendees to walk out in the middle of the conversation Monday.
For many residents, the executive’s listening tour stop was the first official update since March on the efforts to address traffic on rural roads spurred by those looking to avoid the U.S. 301 Mainline toll road opened by Delaware just over the state line.
“We still have tractor-trailers and cars coming through. The speed limit on Wilson Street is 25 mph and they’re doing 60 mph,” resident Kristina Bramble said.
To date, McCarthy said that Delaware has been “unwilling” to consider any of the mitigation factors or solutions offered by the county.
“This is not something we’ve forgotten about ... we’re basically doing anything we can,” he said, detailing conversations he’s had with Maryland and Delaware state officials.
McCarthy did reveal that Delaware has offered $1.2 million to repair damage to Wilson Street, Sassafras Road and Edgar Price Road caused by the ballooning traffic loads, but he has yet to accept the funds.
“I’m unwilling to receive that check until we have a long-term solution, otherwise the roads will just break up again,” he said. “They made an offer to repair the roads, but they did not offer to repair homes, which I asked them to do.”
Residents shared frustrations ranging from noise pollution keeping them awake at night, damage to their homes’ centuries-old foundations from the vibration of large trucks, a lack of police presence in recent months, and fearing for their own safety with speeding vehicles.
“It seems like everyone has just let it die down trying to get us used to it, because the cops were hot and heavy and they’ve died off,” one woman said. “We all have barriers around our houses so that trucks don’t get into our driveways, it’s not something we should have to deal with.”
McCarthy asked each resident to write down their experiences so that he may share them with Delaware officials. He added that he would speak with Sheriff Scott Adams about once again increasing the police presence in Warwick.
“This thing came up quite suddenly, and certainly no one anticipated the degree of the problems it has caused,” he said.
“We all anticipated it in 2003 ... This goes way back,” replied Jonathan Quinn, a local farmer, leading many in the audience to argue that the county and state dropped the ball.
When the conversation turned to whether the county should close off Wilson Street in Warwick, which leads to Strawberry Lane in Delaware, a popular entry point to avoiding the toll road, McCarthy said he would investigate the option but said he would need the Cecil County Council’s support to permanently close a county road.
“I was also told that the truck traffic has decreased considerably,” he said, drawing groans from the crowd and shouts in denial.
County Director of Administration Al Wein, who attended the session with McCarthy and county public information officer Jen Lyall, asked the residents whether they would favor an overpass over U.S. Route 301 at Sassafras Road, to which several people said would improve safety and possible divert toll-evading traffic to larger roads.
In other topics, residents inquired about road repairs and mosquito spraying outside of Cecilton, but the biggest topic other than traffic was the newly-revealed plans for Southfields in Elkton, a mixed-use development that will bring up to 1,000 new homes among other facets.
Chesapeake City-area resident Susie Moore asked whether county officials have considered the impact such a development will have on schools.
“These kids are going to end up at Bo Manor. Elkton will gain tons of tax revenue, while our schools will have to handle all of the kids. This needs to be thought about before they start building,” she said. “We moved to a rural area because we wanted to live there, not for it to be built up into a city.”
Bill Harris, who was among the first seventh grade class to attend Bohemia Manor, voiced his doubt that the school could easily be expanded due to the development of athletic fields and the incoming new elementary school.
“I don’t think you’re going to get enough room in Bo Manor High School to handle that influx and someone ought to write that down and check on it,” he said.
Bramble, who is a paraprofessional at Bohemia Manor Middle School, noted that many teachers already don’t have their own classrooms and have to share or utilize other spaces like the library.
McCarthy sympathized with their concerns but noted that was still early in the process and that the county’s elected school board would be better suited to answer their concerns. He noted that he supported the economic development efforts connected to the project and that its impact could have been greater on schools, as at one time 2,500 homes were proposed for the land.
After the eighth and final session, McCarthy said that he felt the inaugural listening tour — which visited every town over several months to answer questions from the public — was a worthwhile effort and he plans on bringing it back next year.
“They’ve all been good and I think they’ve been getting better, to be frank. People are coming out and sharing their concerns with me,” he said. “They’re bringing to my attention things that I could not possibly know about without their input.”