State awards design funds for U.S. 29 intersections Maryland agrees to spend $2.3 million for Route 32 bridges

January 23, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Howard County moved closer yesterday to removing its two biggest traffic bottlenecks -- the remaining at-grade intersections on U.S. 29 -- as the state Department of Transportation announced $5.6 million in capital funds to design new intersections.

The funding will let the state acquire rights of way and begin project engineering for the intersections of U.S. 29 and Route 216, and U.S. 29 and Johns Hopkins/Gorman Road.

In addition, the state fulfilled a promise to the county by agreeing to spend $2.3 million to build two bridges over the Middle Patuxent River on Route 32 between U.S. 29 and Clarksville.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker said the funding for the projects was not a surprise. "It's great that we're going to plan for those two intersections" especially, he said.

Both intersections fail during morning rush hours, according to a consultant's survey of intersections recently given county officials.

"They are our two biggest bottlenecks, and we will have significant problems if we don't deal with them," said James M. Irvin, county public works director.

The new intersections are expected to be cloverleafs similar to others built along U.S. 29 in the past decade. They would have to be built at the same time to avoid a "significant traffic impact on neighborhood streets in the surrounding area," Mr. Irvin said.

Together, the intersections would cost about $32 million. Because the state has no money to build them, county officials must decide whether to spend some or all of the roughly $18 million in the road fund on the intersections.

Until now, the county has not touched its road money, generated from building excise taxes at a rate of about $6 million a year.

By law, the county would have to put up $2 for every $1 it took from its fund, a constraint that made the fund too expensive to use, officials say. They are looking to state and local officials to remove that constraint.

Construction projects usually begin 18 months to two years after design is completed, Mr. Irvin said. It's not likely, therefore, that the project would be completed before 1999. By then, the county should have more than enough in its road fund to build the intersections if it chose to use that money.

The new Middle Patuxent River bridges are part of an agreement under which the state will open a four-lane freeway this spring on a 2.4-mile stretch between U.S. 29 and Clarksville and turn over old Route 32 -- Guilford Road -- to the county.

The county agreed to take over old Route 32 and maintain it only if it was "brought up to standard" first. Rebuilding the Middle Patuxent River bridges was one of the conditions of that agreement.

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