Two months after its completion, Route 10 is still waiting for the commuters projected to fill its lanes.
State traffic engineers are waiting for the traffic "to find its level" before conducting any formal studies, but their "eyeball" estimates are that 20,000 to 25,000 cars use the 7.2-mile-long road daily.
Those numbers are well short of the 65,000 trips a day predicted before the last leg of Route 10 opened in March.
"Traffic is sort of like water: It eventually seeks its own level," Baltimore RegionalTraffic Planner Robert Lambdin said. "A lot of people haven't discovered (Route 10) yet. It's too early to see whether it's a success."
Apart from lessening traffic in the Jumpers Hole Road/Sun Valley corridor, Lambdin and District Engineer Lawrence Elliot said, Route 10 is unlikely to relieve congestion along Ritchie Highway to the degreeoriginally intended.
Along Jumpers Hole Road, gas station franchise owners have reported a 30 percent decrease in traffic in the last year -- presumably from Severna Park and Arnold residents who now take Route 10 to reach the Beltway.
But for the average commuter, Lambdin predicts, the most important role for the new highway will come next year, when it serves as a detour as the State Highway Administration finishes its work on Interstate 97.
Construction on I-97 between Dorsey Road and Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard is scheduled to begin next spring and will continue for 2 1/2 to 3 years, Lambdin said, causing major backups during peak hours.
"People may not realize this yet, but it's not going to be like the work we did in the Benfield area, when we were able to divert traffic on to Route 3 while we worked on I-97. This construction is not going to be a happy time for anybody. I'm really glad 10 is open now because of that," he said.
"Ten may not meet its original goals, but it does serve an important purpose, bypassing the congestion of North County."
Route 10's origins trace to a 1956 state study that predicted massive suburban development would overwhelm Ritchie Highway by the end of the century.
A superhighway, then known as the Arundel Expressway, was conceived to carry 75,000 cars a day between the Beltway and U.S. 50. The new expressway would turn Ritchie Highway into a backwater for local shopping traffic -- just as Ritchie Highway itself had outmoded Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard in the late 1930s and Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard had outmoded the Indian trails that preceded it during the Colonial era.
But the grand vision of the Arundel Expressway was scuttled20 years later by the same growing communities it was designed to support. Residents and public officials in the expressway's path convinced state officials to go west and build I-97 instead.
South of the Pasadena border, all that remains of the Arundel Expressway is the Severna Park Connector Road behind Severna Park Mall.
"In the '50sand '60s, you could cut a few trees down for a road and nobody noticed. You could cut a community in half and nobody blinked an eye," said Elliot, who has served the Highway Administration in this area for 30 years. "We could cross parks, historical sites and streams, and nobody complained."
The question remained of what to do with an aborted expressway that dumped six lanes of Beltway traffic into a two-lane section of Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard near Marley Creek.
TheArundel Expressway was derisively nicknamed "The Road to Nowhere," and Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-District 31, made bringing Route 10 to some logical ending at Route 100 and Ritchie Highway his pet project inthe legislature.
Money for the project came from a 5-cent gas taxincrease passed in 1987.
A $23.3 million, 4.6-mile stretch to Mountain Road was completed in October 1988. The final $14.4 million, 2.2-mile "spur" was completed March 1.
Though Route 10 finally goes somewhere, it does not relieve the congestion along Ritchie Highway as originally intended, engineers agree.
The Department of Transportation's 1990 Statewide Commuter Assistance Study, which confirmed the predictions of the 1956 report, says Ritchie Highway should be widened to three lanes from Route 10 south to U.S. 50, at a projected expense of $125 million.
But SHA dollars aren't flowing as easily as they did in the 1980s, Lambdin says.
"I have a feeling we'll be slowing down in the future, with the way the new Clean Air Act will affect federal transportation spending," he said. "We'll be maintaining what we have and putting in high-occupancy vehicle lanes and light-rail lines as a priority before you see any new projects."