From Deborah Bowers
Save the Rocks
A section of MD Route 24 through Rocks State Park will be shut down for five months beginning in June, according to the State Highway Administration, while the roadway is reconstructed and the embankment of Deer Creek along the northbound edge of the roadway is braced with a stacked stone wall highway officials say will be invisible to travelers.
The new plan was applauded by members of Save the Rocks, a citizen group that has been working with the SHA to develop a plan that would be acceptable to area residents and not alter the appearance of the park. The plan will be presented at a public meeting this Spring.
SHA will construct a 500-foot long imbricated or stacked stone wall in the creek embankment midway between the MD 24 bridge over Deer Creek and the Rapids Area Parking Lot in Rocks State Park. The SHA will also restore an eroded embankment approximately 150 feet long that is across from the parking lot.
The roadway plan was revamped several times over the last four years as State Highway officials worked with residents who wanted a project that would repair and reconstruct the creek embankment and not alter the appearance or alignment of the roadway. The original plan from state highway officials to move the road away from the creek into the hillside was strongly opposed by the community.
The new plan presented March 12 to an advisory group formed in 2010 by Harford County Councilman Chad Shrodes is designed to prevent flooding and underground seepage, called piping, along certain lengths of the creek from undermining the road surface. Shrodes said at the meeting that he was pleased with the new plan.
Jason Ridgway, SHA director of highway development, said his agency was aiming for a plan that would protect public safety as well as retain the park’s natural features and respond to residents’ concerns.
“We wanted a project that was constructible and safe. We can build this and we can build it safely,” Ridgway said.
Rocks resident Deborah Coomes and other members of Save the Rocks congratulated Ridgway for achieving solutions to the problems they saw with prior plans. Coomes, who lives closest to the project site, said she was pleased with the changes the agency had made and felt the project would spare residents and park visitors from unwanted physical changes to the park.
Scott McGill, a consultant for Save the Rocks and co-owner of Ecotone, Inc., a stream restoration company, said the SHA’s plan had met the approval of the group because SHA had changed its approach to addressing the roadway problems. The new plan uses techniques that will mimic the streamside’s natural appearance while minimizing disruption within the creek.
“I think we are on our way to a pretty decent project and hopefully a well executed end product,” McGill said after the meeting.
Dave Peake, district engineer for SHA, said the agency had undergone some evolution during the project design, bringing in experts that could design the imbricated stone wall to shore up areas that have become scoured by flood debris and weakened by piping occurring under the roadway.
Local residents urged the SHA to adopt the imbricated stone technique because they felt addressing the embankment failure instead of moving the road was a better approach to preventing roadway failure. They said imbricated stone would replicate walls constructed in the creek embankment more than 100 years ago when the Ma and Pa Railroad was built, which are still in place. SHA hired a contractor to design the wall as well as the restoration of an eroded creek bank across from the parking lot.
“We brought the contractor on board because we didn’t have the expertise in house. By doing this and admitting we were not experts, we have gotten here,” Peake said at the meeting after residents said they were pleased with the new plan.
In addition to the roadway and embankment reconstruction, the parking lot along MD 24 in Rocks State Park that provides parking for the Rapids Area will be regraded and a pedestrian crossing strip will be put in place.
SHA officials indicated further work was anticipated further south on MD 24 just outside the park but gave no schedule for that project.