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by Judith Hruz
Senior Staff Writer
It was 19 years ago — September 1999 — that the community was heralding the state’s funding of the Brookeville Bypass.
Then-Gov. Parris Glendening (D) had included the project in the fiscal year 2001 Maryland Consolidated Transportation Program after it had been deleted from that program the year before because it conflicted with the governor’s Smart Growth initiative.
Smart Growth was an effort by the state to prevent urban sprawl by developing communities and roadways where such infrastructure as water, sewer and transportation alternatives existed.
Such has been the history of the bypass, the roadway discussed for nearly five decades as a way to take traffic off Route 97 as it winds its way through historic Brookeville.
This time, unless the state puts on the breaks and throws the project into reverse immediately, the bypass will be built.
Gov. Larry Hogan told elected officials and the community on Sept. 25 that the Brookeville Bypass would open in the fall of 2021.
Standing near Salem United Methodist Church along Route 97 — known as Georgia Avenue for most of its length from downtown Washington, D.C., to Howard County – Hogan joined local officials in a ceremonial groundbreaking of the “MD 97 Relocated” project, which will build a new two-lane roadway around the west side of Brookeville from near Gold Mine Road — south of town — to near Brookeville Road — north of town.
Plans call for traffic roundabouts at Gold Mine and Brookeville roads.
The $47.6 million project, which the town has wanted for 50 years, is expected to reduce traffic congestion in historic Brookeville and improve traffic operations and safety on existing Route 97.
“I am beyond excited,” Brookeville Commission President Sue Daley said. “I knew this would happen, but didn’t know when. Having Gov. Hogan here is like the cherry on top of the sundae.”
She added: “This is a great turnout, with a lot of townspeople. You can see their excitement.”
Some residents who live near the new route have bemoaned the disruption to their properties and the environment.
Construction was scheduled to begin at the southern end of the project, near Longwood Community Recreation Center, after The Greater Olney News press time.
The District 14 legislators issued a statement saying they “are very happy that our collective hard work is coming to fruition,”
“The District 14 legislators, including former Sen. Karen Montgomery, secured the funding needed to build this much needed road,” State Sen. Craig Zucker, Del. Anne Kaiser, Del. Eric Luedtke and Del. Pamela Queen say in the joint statement.
Montgomery, who lives in Brookeville, said she knew the bypass would be built, “but thought it would be 20 years ago.”
“When we bought our house 30 years ago, we went to Rockville and were told that the bypass would be built within five years,” she said “Thirty years later, it is finally happening.”
Hogan said Montgomery reminded him of the need for the bypass.
“As soon as I took office, Sen. Montgomery told us that this project was important, and she told us that on a regular basis,” he said.
In January 2000, State Highway Administration officials told town residents that the bypass could be completed by 2006.
“Until now, I had not heard a date, so this is encouraging,” Brookeville Commission President Les Unglesbee says in the Jan. 26, 2001, issue of The Gazette. “Of course, I have the sense enough to realize that things can change, but it does seem like they are making more of a commitment.”
In the Oct. 10, 2001, issue of The Gazette, Clyde Unglesbee, a Brookeville resident of 53 years at that time, recounted the historical background of the town’s quest for a bypass.
“Some of us have suffered through innumerable meetings, focus groups, town hall meetings and all of the input, including the emergence of the governor’s Smart Growth policy in 1999 which temporarily derailed any progress that had been made,” he said. “But now, hopefully we are back on course and on the verge of officially witnessing some action on the location and design phase.”
Hogan said the bypass “will make a huge difference in this beautiful town and will help residents get their town back.”
“It will be nice to no longer have cars in our yard or our neighbors’ yard or our fences knocked down,” the former senator said. “We’ve had cars damaged and a car took out the corner of our garage. I hope this will let us live in peace.”
Former Town Commissioner Buck Bartley agreed.
“This is wonderful for the town,” he said. “Now, it is like three separate towns. Once this road is built, there will be better connectivity for all the residents.”
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