By next millennium, piecemeal Route 100 should be finished

THE INTREPID COMMUTER

January 09, 1995

For a big-time highway, it's downright pathetic.

At least that's what we're hearing from numerous readers these days. They regard Route 100 in Howard County as the Chihuahua of thoroughfares -- cute, but small.

At the moment, Howard County's portion of Route 100 is just a 2-mile long, two-lane affair running from U.S. 29 east to Route 104. In Howard County, they have driveways longer than that.

Even so, it's a mighty popular little piece of road, a useful link for local residents headed to southbound Interstate 95. Take Route 100 to Route 104 to Route 108 to Route 175 to I-95, and you'll eventually find Newt Gingrich's place.

But our readers are eagerly anticipating the day when a four-lane, uninterrupted Route 100 stretches east to I-95 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

Motorists will get a straight shot to Washington or farther east on Route 100 through Anne Arundel County and down Interstate 97 Annapolis.

"When are they going to finish so that traffic doesn't have to convert into Route 108 which is what is happening now?" asks Maria Alvarez, an Ellicott City-to-D.C. commuter.

"The traffic is getting worse and worse."

For an even number, 100 has an odd history. A Route 100 interchange going nowhere has existed along I-95 for many years. It just sort of sits there patiently waiting for a highway to show up.

Route 100 is supposed to fill a void -- the lack of major east-west connections in the suburbs south of Baltimore -- yet it's had numerous ups and downs.

In the 1970s, the easternmost section was built from Gibson Island west to Route 3 (which later became I-97).

But the effort languished in the 1980s. After work on the project picked up again at the end of the decade, the State Highway Administration ran out of construction money.

Resurrected in 1992, the highway was delayed again when some Columbia neighborhoods vigorously opposed its path from Route 104 to I-95. Concerns about noise and environmental impact have been settled, but the rerouting prolonged the process.

All in all, SHA officials tell us that Route 100 won't be finished for -- drum roll, please -- four more years!

"We're going to be in this condition basically until 1999 or so," says Douglas Rose, the SHA's district engineer for Howard, Frederick and Carroll counties.

"We do do them in pieces some times, and they don't always look like they have method to the madness."

Still, a big chunk of Route 100 will be finished this year. The section between I-95 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway should be done by late summer. A fall opening is planned for the portion from the BW Parkway to I-97.

A new Route 100/I-97 interchange should be finished by the winter.

Construction cost for the entire project: Somewhere in the neighborhood of $210 million, not counting the 1 1/4 -mile stretch west of Route 104 to Red Hill Branch that opened in September. It was financed by a private developer.

And so, dear readers, keep in mind that the Route 100 stub built in Howard County is really only the two eastbound lanes of what will eventually be a four-lane road by the end of the millennium.

Tunnel traffic deserves guidance

Neil Gustafson has discovered similarities between approaching Baltimore's two tunnels and manufacturing rugs: They both involve a lot of weaving.

In the case of the tunnels, this is not a good thing. Mr. Gustafson thinks the problem is virtually built into the design of the toll plazas.

Where the road widens leading up to the toll booths, most cars go directly to the left half of the toll lanes, ignoring all the empty toll lanes to the right.

But fast-moving cars traveling in the left lane often weave through traffic at the last moment to get to those inviting empty toll lanes on the far right.

Mr. Gustafson's solution is this: Install pylons where the highway widens to direct traffic in a spread pattern.

"I think you would find that the lesser-used toll booths would be on the left side and that would cut down on a lot of weaving and a lot of opportunity for accidents," the Timonium resident says.

We ran this by our friends at the Maryland Transportation Authority, the folks who run the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel and the Fort McHenry Tunnel. They agree there's a problem, but disagree on the solution.

Between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30 of last year, there were 61 minor accidents in the immediate vicinity of the tunnel toll plazas.

The problem, officials concede, is driver inertia. A driver has a tendency to go straight rather than veer from his or her course.

But putting barriers in place would reduce the flexibility of the toll plaza to add and subtract lanes. That flexibility, says Tunnels Administrator Thomas Jr. Fallon Jr., is vital. "It's the nature of toll plazas to create weaving motions in traffic," Mr. Fallon says. "It's impossible to know whether certain lanes will be open all the time."

That's because a toll lane is not just concrete driveway with a booth on the side. It's equipped with sensitive electronic equipment -- a sensor that detects the number of axles in the vehicle, for instance -- that can sometimes break down.

Instead, Mr. Fallon suggests that tunnel-bound drivers behave like veteran commuters and merge to the right lane far in advance of the toll plaza and then be prepared to move to the right-side toll lanes.

"What we really want is for people to move right earlier," says Lori Vidil, the authority's spokeswoman.

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