SYKESVILLE - Parts of routes 32 and 97 stretch the breadth of Howard and Carroll counties, and apparently so does opposition to state plans for improving the roadways.
Howard County Council members introduced resolutions that would limit state plans for road improvements in that county, following a public meeting at which more than 300 angry residents came out to air their objections.
And in Carroll, residents opposed to the road plans turned out for a meeting near Sykesville last week to make their feelings known to state administrators.
However, county and state administrators say the road upgrades are necessary to meet the projected traffic needs for the coming years.
"That's the idea of planning, trying to see the needs coming down the road and plan for them before they actually get there," said Scott Fischer, a Carroll planner who has met with state administrators to discuss road needs for the county.
The project is in its early stages, said Jeffrey Wingfield of the Project Planning Division of the State Highway Administration, and it could be years before work begins.
"We've just started the study, and there are no set alignments," he said. "We've drawn lines on paper just to show what options we were studying."
Wingfield said highway planners have no project cost estimates and have not determined road length yet.
However, state administrators began the study this summer to look for ways to improve traffic flow on the two roads. Planners are considering widening and realigning portions of the roads, particularly the winding sections of Route 97 in southern Carroll. There are also plans to build a link between routes 32 and 97, to relieve congestion on both roads.
State planners are focusing study on sections of both roads, stretching from Eldersburg in South Carroll to Clarksville in Howard. But residents in both counties are opposed to the plans in general because they worry that road improvements to routes 32 and 97 will open the door to increased development.
However, Fischer said improving roadways doesn't necessarily mean neighborhoods and shopping centers will start popping up.
"The roads don't create development, it's the land-use designations that create development," Fischer said, referring to areas targeted for growth in the county's comprehensive Master Plan.
"Just improving a road doesn't mean you'll have new development. We look at the whole picture," he said. "Roads are just one aspect."
Planners say that instead of encouraging increased development, the road improvements would be aimed at meeting the needs for growth already anticipated in the coming years.
Fischer added that, future growth aside, many roads in the area already are burdened with traffic.
"They're already having traffic congestion problems," Fischer said of some areas of the two roads, particularly near Sykesville and Eldersburg.
"And it's only going to get worse."
More specifically, residents also are opposed to the proposed four-lane connector road between routes 32 and 97, which has been discussed by state planners.
Though several locations for the connector have been considered, an exact site has not been picked. One proposed location is near the Carroll-Howard line, but Fischer thinks that option unlikely because of the expense that would be required for road construction, including a possible new interchange at Interstate 70.
Other sites in Howard would be more likely, he said, and would still serve Carroll residents.
"That would make it really nice for people in central Carroll traveling to Annapolis," Fischer said. "It would be a nice straight shot."
A connector road would be eight years away, should the state decide to build one. That estimate includes three years for the study, Wingfield said.
Meanwhile, the county and state will look at any alternatives to upgrading Carroll roads and traffic flow, Fischer said.
"We're basically saying, 'Look at all the options.' Keep the book open."