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Church lacks compelling case for road closure

The First Baptist Church of Glen St. Mary is making its case for closing George Taber Boulevard in the west town on the basis of: a.) through traffic is a hazard during church activities and b.) the church needs the road closed to expand parking lots to the west of the main building.

The church has a case. But it doesn’t have a compelling case — one that justifies by circumstances and precedent the closing of a through road by the county or Town of Glen St. Mary.

Here’s why.

• A traffic count in May recorded 10,500 vehicle trips along Taber during a seven-day period. The church claims 2000 of those, 20 percent, were vehicles coming or going to its services and events.

It’s an arbitrary number, it seems, for an estimate by the entity whose agenda is to close the road. For purposes of discussion, however, let’s say it’s close enough to be accurate.

That still leaves 8500 vehicle trips a week by people using Taber as a thoroughfare — to and from Interstate 10 and fed from neighborhoods north and west of Glen St. Mary. That’s a significant number.

Those trips will have to be routed elsewhere, most likely to CR 125 where the DOT recently narrowed the eastbound approach on US 90 from two lanes to one. Added congestion — most notably on school mornings — is a certainty.

The same is true of northbound traffic on CR 125 as it then would have to turn west on US 90, or even less desirable, use narrow roads on either side of the CSX tracks to arrive back at Taber. 

• The church argues that Taber traffic is a hazard to pedestrians during worship services and other events. Likely so, but that’s because the church located buildings and parking areas across the street from each other, not because of the right-of-way and road, which predate the buildings.

If, as church officials assert, speeding vehicles heighten the danger, that’s a law enforcement problem. The solution: the church should contract the services of a certified off-duty police officer similar to road construction sites. A patrol car with flashing lights and a uniformed cop tend to get people’s attention.

Counties and cities don’t deal with speeders by closing roads.

• The church needs that portion of Taber for extended parking (see the site plan). But parking could be extended across Andrews St. to the north [also petitioned for closing but sparsely used] and across Taber, where it appears the church plans to raze several buildings, without closing the road by routing the pedestrian traffic from the west parking area through a manned crossing.

The number of parking spaces to be added atop the existing Taber right-of-way does not justify closing the road.

The county and Glen have planned separate public hearings on the closure petition the evenings of June 20 (the county commission) at 6:00 and June 21 (Glen Town Council) at 7:00. Both boards have heard from the church  on why it wants Taber closed. The hearings give the boards a chance to hear what people on both sides have to say.

Public officials are often skittish about matters involving churches, particularly one with a relatively large congregation seeking to expand.

The job of public officials, however, is to look out for what’s best for the public and set precedents on that basis. This is a textbook case of a private entity petitioning government to do something that benefits it only.

The church’s case simply does not trump the public interest, and the public safety matters it sets forth can be easily addressed by other means less drastic than road closure. And — more to the point — those safety concerns are of the church’s making.

The proper course for both the county and Glen boards should be very clear.

[Full disclosure: the writer resides just west of the Glen town limits and regularly uses Taber Blvd.]

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