Upgrading Route 32 hits roadblock Plans to improve stretch at NSA lack financing

'No one wants to pay'

Council to urge state priority for $70 million project

November 20, 1995|By Shirley Leung | Shirley Leung,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County's highest-tech employer has one of its lowest-tech roads.

Through most of the county, Route 32 is a wide, modern, limited access highway. But the 1.5-mile stretch that runs through Fort Meade past the National Security Agency narrows to three and four lanes with traffic lights and lane signals controlling the flow of cars, trucks and buses.

The State Highway Administration wants to upgrade that part, the final link to make Route 32 a freeway from Annapolis to Columbia.

The county wants to do it. The NSA wants them to do it.

But no one wants to pay for the estimated $70 million project that would make the road from the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to Route 198 a four-lane, limited access freeway.

The construction would relocate a portion of Route 32 and replace four traffic light intersections with two interchanges.

State officials told county leaders last month the improvement is too costly and they do not plan to fund the project in the next six years.

The cost of fixing that stretch represents about a third of the cost of upgrading the entire 21.8 miles of Route 32. The cost is driven up by the need to build five bridges along that stretch and to relocate a complex fiber optic system put underground by the NSA.

The State Highway Administration offered to cover half the bill if the federal government paid the other half.

But the state couldn't come up with any money from its $295.1 million budget for major projects.

Instead, the state has decided to look for other ways to relieve the congestion.

"We don't have $35 million to spend on one project. We're trying to spread out our money," said Valerie Burnette Edgar, an SHA spokeswoman.

State officials also suggested that NSA and Fort Meade could pay for the upgrade. But that does not look like an option.

Although NSA once paid for an exit off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, it is unlikely that that kind of money would be available again.

"In this current budget climate, the money is not there," said Mike Morrill, state director for Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who has followed the issue.

"Senator Mikulski is going to fight each subsequent year to get funding for this project."

Without the upgrade, the daily traffic jams in front of the NSA will continue.

And they are likely to get worse as the population in western Anne Arundel County swells from 45,000 to 75,000 over the next 20 years, according to county projections. About 46,000 commuters use the road today, according to state highway studies.

"This is something that must be done," said County Councilman Bert L. Rice, who represents the area.

"We're completing a freeway that people have placed in the hard-to-do basket."

Tonight the County Council will hold a public hearing on a resolution urging the state to make the Route 32 improvement a priority.

Commuters say upgrading Route 32 is not only a matter of convenience, but also of safety.

Clifford Roop, owner of the Shell station off Route 32 in front of the NSA, said the stretch between Mapes Road and Route 198 is confusing and dangerous.

"The setup is just horrible," Mr. Roop said. "Come 4 p.m. in the afternoon, it's a zoo. You have an eighth of a mile to go across four lanes of traffic.

"I don't know how many reported accidents there are, but there are a hundred just missed every day."

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