Development of Columbia's last village should be postponed to spare Clarksville motorists from even more traffic problems than they now suffer, a growth-control proponent says.
"The traffic out there is horrendous now. If you allow River Hill, it's going to get significantly worse," said Susan Gray, vice president of Howard Countians for Responsible Growth, speaking of Columbia's 10th and final village.
Gray's testimony and cross-examination of county planning and Rouse Co. officials on River Hill has stretched into two Planning Board meetings. The meetings have dealt with initial plans to develop a parcel of River Hill with 883 single-family homes during the next seven years.
FOR THE RECORD - A photo caption on Page 2 of Wednesday's Howard County Sun misidentified Anita M. Iribe, president of the League of Women Voters of Howard County.
To accommodate the unexpected testimony, the Planning Board has postponed two other cases and will continue the meeting Tuesday.
The main problem, Gray argued, is the state's inability to pay for a rerouted and straightened Route 32, nowa winding two-lane country road from Route 108 to Cedar Lane.
County planners have recommended that the board approve the plan despitethe heavy traffic congestion, partly because it includes improvements, such as extra turn lanes, to Route 32's heavily congested intersection with Cedar Lane and Pindell School Road.
The plan stipulates that Howard Research and Development (HRD), the Rouse Co.'s development arm, will develop property for no more than 626 homes if the statedoes not build the replacement for Route 32.
But local residents say that considering the level of traffic now on Route 32, even that number that is too many.
"The traffic will be absolutely absurd," said Nancy Parlette, president of the Trotter Road Citizens Association, who plans to ask the Planning Board to limit development to 440 homes.
Trying to get from Trotter Road on to Guilford Road is so bad, Parlette said, "some people have told me they've sat there for five minutes before turning out," and once on Guilford have to sit through two or three changes of the light to get past Cedar Lane.
Joseph H. Necker Jr., Rouse Co. vice president and engineering director, said HRD stands by its numbers. He would not comment further, saying the company would respond to Gray's charges at Tuesday's meeting.
Once the testimony is heard, the Planning Board will decide whether toapprove the initial proposal, called a sketch plan, of the parcel with 883 detached single-family homes just north of Guilford Road on either side of Trotter Road. A sketch plan establishes the land use andgives a rough idea of the road and lot layouts.
A sketch plan hasalready been approved for the first part of River Hill, a development of 158 single-family homes, to the north. The development, PheasantRidge, is planned for next spring.
Gray's primary argument against HRD's plan is that it uses a flawed traffic study.
In particular, she says, the increase in traffic volume it predicts for Route 32 falls short of the county's own standards of measurement.
While thecounty's highway design manual specifies an increase in cross-countythrough traffic of between 6 percent and 9 percent a year, the RiverHill study uses a 2 percent rate.
Joseph Rutter, county director of planning and zoning, said the manual allows variations and in thiscase it is appropriate.
The reason through traffic won't increaseso much, he said, is that the traffic is already so bad that motorists traveling from Montgomery or Carroll counties to other counties will likely start using other routes.
Rutter said the planning staff's recommendation to allow development to proceed was made before a draft report on state transportation was issued showing the Route 32 project deferred for at least six years.
Even so, the county has a back-up requirement that the traffic study be re-evaluated after eachof the six sections in the parcel are developed.
If assumptions in the plan prove to be wrong, county planners would have the option of delaying development until the new Route 32 were in place or other road improvements were made, Rutter said.
County Public Works Director James Irvin said that while no state money for Route 32 is available now, it is possible the General Assembly could pass a gasoline tax increase or other device to raise transportation money. The countycould also start the project with its own money with the understanding that the state would reimburse it, he said.