The construction of an interchange at the intersection of U.S. 29 and Route 216 is Howard County's highest priority road project, according to a list presented at a meeting of the county's public transportation board last night.
The tentative list of projects prepared by a traffic consultant hired by the county also gives high priorities to capital improvements along the U.S. 1 corridor and Roxbury Mills Road.
County traffic planners said they will use the list to help them decide what projects to ask for in next year's proposed budget.
"We are hoping that in the next three or four years, we will get to accomplish all of the high-priority projects," said Carl Balser, the county's chief transportation planner. "In the next four to six years, we hope to get the medium priority projects done."
The list was developed by comparing the road projects using 18 criteria such as the number of accidents, the level of traffic and the estimated cost. It did not include proposals that the state and county already have committed to funding, such as construction to relieve the congestion along Route 175 and Route 32.
Higher priority generally was given to roads traveled with more frequency, while all of the projects at the bottom of the list were in the less populated West County.
"With the low-priority projects, unless we hear something different from the public, we will hold those in abeyance and try to evaluate them some more," Mr. Balser said.
Because the list marks the first time that the county has tried to assign priorities to its road projects in a calculated way, Mr. Balser cautioned the board against jumping to conclusions too quickly.
"This is intended to have a fairly limited life span," Mr. Balser said of the list. "From the county's perspective, we were even more interested in the process than the list itself.
"We will continue making refinements in the criteria and the rankings," he said.
Members of the board nevertheless offered several suggestions about how the ranking system could be improved, including adding greater emphasis to consideration of the environmental impact of proposed projects.
"I want to see a better weighting system for the environment," said Perry Berman, the board's vice chairman. "It is an important factor that I think is underrated in this system."
Mr. Balser and Ed Stollof, the consultant, agreed to review the list with an added emphasis on the environment.
Such a review might change the rank of certain projects. For example, the proposed interchange at U.S. 29 and Route 216 is surrounded by environmentally sensitive areas, making it difficult and time-consuming for the county to obtain the necessary permits for the job.
Although the board had requested public comment on the rankings of individual projects, the few people who spoke instead offered suggestions on how to assign priorities to projects for future lists.
A second list ranking smaller projects, such as changes in road signs and pavement markings, also was presented to the board last night.
The roads with the highest priorities included Whiskey Bottom Road, Frederick Road, U.S. 1 and Marriottsville Road.
Mr. Balser said that the Department of Public Works' proposed budget for next year, including road construction funding requests, is scheduled to be submitted to the county executive on Jan. 9.