Opening of bridges over U.S. 29 means fewer headaches for Columbia motorists

September 23, 1992|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

Thanks to $23 million and two years of sweat, concrete, asphalt and steel, Columbia will become a smaller place today.

State, county and Rouse Co. officials will gather at 11:30 a.m. to ++ open Broken Land Parkway's two bridges across U.S. 29, completing Columbia's last, and perhaps most prominent, highway link.

The road will join Columbia's southeastern villages of Kings Contrivance and Owen Brown with Town Center. For 25 years, motorists have had to sit at lights at Owen Brown Road and South Entrance Road to get onto and off of U.S. 29 to make the connection.

The State Highway Administration project, which includes an overpass intersection at Seneca Drive that opened last week, will also eliminate traffic signals at Owen Brown and South Entrance roads. Eliminating those traffic bottlenecks will make U.S. 29 light-free from St. John's Lane to Route 32.

"It's going to change the face of Route 29 and Columbia," said Alton Scavo, vice president and associate director of community development for the Rouse Co., Columbia's developer. The company is building nearly three miles of connecting roads for the intersection. About 70 percent of the money for the project came from the federal government. The rest was paid by the state and county.

"Everything's going to be different for those who live and are oriented toward the south of Columbia's downtown," Mr. Scavo said. "It's going to be a new landmark."

Mr. Scavo came to Columbia in 1969, when U.S. 29 was a two-lane road and the planned city's Town Center had only a TC north and south "Entrance Road" to greet its residents, workers and visitors.

Instead of approaching Town Center from below, motorists will have a view of the Mall in Columbia, its surrounding buildings and lakefront area from above while crossing the parkway's overpass or curving up and around the high-speed ramp from southbound U.S. 29.

"Downtown will look more imposing today than it does going through the south entrance," said Henry B. Clark, a member of the Columbia Forum's Downtown Work Group and a former Columbia Council member. "I don't know whether that's good or bad, though."

"I think a lot of the old-timers will really miss the old South Entrance Road," said Lloyd Knowles, another work group member and a former County Council member.

"I guess it will be viewed as a major step toward the completion of Columbia," he added. "I think it will give it more of a modern look rather than the old south entrance, which has been there for 25 years."

The next major step will be the completion of Broken Land Parkway through the mall loop area and its connection with Twin Rivers Road, Mr. Knowles said.

The Rouse Co. is now building an extension of the parkway and a service road connecting it with the mall's ring road. The connection to Twin Rivers Road is not expected to be built until the company finishes developing Town Center.

Although the light at South Entrance Road will be eliminated, motorists will still be permitted to turn right onto southbound U.S. 29. Traffic southbound on U.S. 29 also will be allowed to turn right onto South Entrance Road.

Although the Broken Land Parkway intersection will open today, finishing touches on the new road network will continue until the end of the year, said Douglas Rose, SHA District 7 engineer.

The work will include replacing temporary ramps off northbound and onto southbound U.S. 29, which were installed because Owen Brown Road was in the way of the permanent ramps, Mr. Rose said. That work will require intermittent lane closures between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., he said.

Today's invitation-only ceremony will be attended by state Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer, SHA Administrator Hal Kassoff, County Executive Charles I. Ecker, state Del. Virginia Thomas, D-13A, and Mr. Scavo, among others.

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