For trip to Richmond, I-97 sign offers the long and short of it

THE INTREPID COMMUTER

March 20, 1995

Life is short, but full of choices.

Do you register Republican or Democrat? Do you apply to Towson State or Maryland? Do you say, "I do," or "Never mind?"

Traveling south on Interstate 97 in Millersville, as Virginia S. Hodges of Ruxton and her children do quite often, drivers face an equally vexing philosophical choice:

Left lanes (I-97) for "Richmond, Via Expwy," or right lanes (Route 3) for "Richmond, Via Local."

It's a test of faith -- in expressways, that is. It is a faith that for some people eclipses common sense, and one in which the State Highway Administration, being a secular institution, takes no sides.

Interstate devotees would no doubt move left upon seeing the sign as if Nirvana were just beyond Annapolis. But Mrs. Hodges, 76, no fan of the fast lanes, would simultaneously choose the right lanes and the "local" route.

Traveling in (usually) uninterrupted comfort, the interstaters would drive southeast to within virtual sight of Annapolis. There, however, signs and ramps would shunt them west on U.S. 50. About 15 miles after making their choice in Millersville, they arrive at the U.S. 50 interchange with Route 3.

Waiting there, like Aesop's tortoise, would be Mrs. Hodges, heading for her preferred Route 3/U.S. 301 pathway to Richmond. Her way, with a few traffic lights, is a little less than 10 miles.

"Even for people wedded to an interstate, this doesn't make any red-hot sense at all," Mrs. Hodges said.

She was surprised to hear that the State Highway Administration's intent was not to lead motorists on a wild-goose chase to Annapolis to get onto her favored U.S. 301. Not at all.

If you opt to keep your route expressway-pure, the SHA wants you to stay on U.S. 50 past the Route 3 interchange, farther west to the Capital Beltway-south -- and then on around to the infamous Springfield, Va., interchange with Interstate 95.

It makes perfect sense to the expressway adherent, so we must bow to SHA's good intentions.

Better, though, adviseth your Intrepid One, if your Richmond trip's starting just about anywhere in greater Baltimore north of Anne Arundel County, to use either I-95 or the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to get to the Capital Beltway. Forget I-97 altogether, especially at Millersville, although if you've gotten that far on it, at least do as Mrs. Hodges advises, take Route 3 to U.S. 50.

Of course, if you insist in opting for I-97, you're probably looking for a way to avoid Washington and its bustling beltway -- like Mrs. Hodges, who, of course, speaks for many when she says:

"I'll go around my elbow to get to my thumb. I'll go around anything to not have to go to Washington and tackle the Beltway."

WHILE WE'RE ON I-97

Construction to widen I-97 has slimmed the highway from three lanes to two at the New Cut Road interchange. To avoid the resulting backups, the SHA offers the following alternate routes: If you're coming, say, from Severna Park to Baltimore, take Route 2 to Route 10 to the Baltimore Beltway. If you're coming from Crownsville and points south, take Route 32 to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. The parkway goes to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the Baltimore Beltway and, of course, downtown.

The backups should end sometime this fall, when third lanes northbound and southbound will open between Routes 100 and 176.

ROAD CLOSED

Lena Vias of Northwest Baltimore alerted us to the closure since last fall of Pimlico Road between Rockland Hills Drive and Ten Timbers Lane.

"It looks like the paving was dug up and mounds of sand were dumped on the roadbed. No one appears to be working on it," she said, asking when it will reopen.

Simply put, said Robert W. Bowling, chief of the developers engineering section of the Baltimore County Department of Public Works, it's been winter, and not much construction goes on. The project will widen that stretch of Old Pimlico Road to four lanes, from two, and add curbs and gutters.

Until November, when the project is expected to be finished, drivers are being detoured onto Falls Road north, Old Court Road west, Greenspring Avenue south and back east on Green Summit Road to Old Pimlico Road. If that sounds like a long way, your ears aren't deceiving you.

"There are some local streets that connect," says Stephen E. Weber, county traffic engineering chief, "but we don't want to route major traffic flows . . . through a local residential street."

SLOW LANE REACTIONS

They may be slow in the opinion of an impatient courier Intrepid Commuter quoted last week, but people who drive 50 mph in interstates' left lanes were quick to respond, en masse.

One woman said her lawyer would practically be there in the passenger's seat as she cruised the inside lanes, daring our courier and other "balls of light" to run into her.

Catonsville trucker George Miller said he doesn't use the left lanes, but he sees "balls of light" come up dangerously fast upon motorists who are legitimately driving at or near the speed limit.

"The speed limit is 55, but these people are trying to do 70," he says, adding that the current effort to raise the speed limit could only spell trouble. "I can't see this 65 mph speed limit. Give them 65, they'll do 85."

KEEP IN TOUCH

Write to the Intrepid Commuter, c/o The Baltimore Sun, P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore 21278. Please include your name and telephone number so we can reach you if we have any questions.

Or use your Touch-Tone phone to call Sundial, The Baltimore Sun's telephone information service, at 783-1800, and enter Ext. 4305. Call 268-7736 in Anne Arundel County.

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