Since 1990, the North Laurel-Savage area has grown to include 38,000 residents. More significantly, it has grown at a rate of about 13 percent, just behind the countywide average.
Once mainly a blue-collar backwater, with a smattering of older residential communities, North Laurel has evolved into one of Howard's sought-after locations. Its relatively modest housing prices have been a magnet for many families who are lured by Howard County's schools but turned off by its expensive real estate. Since January, 48 homes have sold in the North Laurel area for an average of about $194,000, while in the rest of the county the average price for single-family residences is closer to $350,000.
All of this has resulted in some fairly major changes along the U.S. 1 corridor, which serves as the main artery through North Laurel. Always heavily traveled and still mostly industrial, it has become a nightmare of urban congestion. It is now a volatile cocktail of tractor-trailers and suburban moms in mini-vans, plus an enormous flow of commuter traffic from workers traveling from Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties to job sites around Columbia.
Residents in the area have long complained about specific intersections in their community. Finally, it appears the county is taking notice. In its latest wish list to the State Highway Administration, county planning officials list six intersections with serious problems in need of improvement. Five of them are in North Laurel and Savage. The entire list of improvements comes with a $31 million price tag and could take from five to 10 years to complete -- and that's only if they all win state funding.
Given the overwhelming number of problem areas in North Laurel and Savage, this is certainly a section in need of attention. We suspect that the history of the area has allowed county officials to ignore problems in the past -- industries tend to complain less about livability issues.
The new residents of North Laurel and Savage, however, are showing that they have some clout, like their neighbors in Columbia and western Howard County. Their demands for safer intersections have been heard at the county level. State officials should start paying more attention to what they're saying, too.