New freeway welcomed as road to relief Route that opens tomorrow eliminates notorious bottleneck

Convenient for Clarksville

$55 million project was fought by slow-growth activists

March 14, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The long-awaited Patuxent Freeway which will make rural Clarksville more accessible for commuters and shoppers when it opens tomorrow morning already has changed the course of Howard County history.

It spawned the political careers of county slow-growth activists John W. Taylor and Susan B. Gray, who made it a symbol of run-away growth, an issue that led to the 1990 election of County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

Now that the 2.4-mile, $55 million freeway is a reality, it may become the primary conduit for the growth that Mr. Taylor and Ms. Gray fought so hard to curtail.

But for now, commuters, business people and even Mr. Taylor see the road as a godsend.

They are willing to accept the prospect of additional growth if it means eliminating one of Howard County's worst bottlenecks: the intersection of Routes 32 and 108.

"Wherever two roads meet, there is always going to be some kind of development," Mr. Taylor said. "Life goes on."

The new highway, which runs from Cedar Lane-Pindell School Road in the east to Route 108 in the west, had been planned as an extension of Route 32 for more than a decade.

The State Highway Administration is conducting studies that, if approved, could lead to construction of Route 32 as a four-lane freeway from Clarksville to Interstate 70 in about five years.

Some Clarksville residents say they are pleased that the freeway is opening.

"We've been looking for relief for more than five years," said Margaret Smith, office administrator at 3,400-member St. Louis Roman Catholic Church. People going to and from the church had major problems with the bottleneck.

Business people near the Clarksville terminus of the new road are hoping it will give a boost to the growth that already has occurred in the area.

"In a world driven by convenience, everything more convenient is an asset," said Kevin Bell, president of Win Kelly Chevrolet, situated near the terminus of the new road.

"This has been a difficult area to get to. You sometimes have to wait four or five times for the same light to cycle. [The new road] is going to be very beneficial."

Mr. Bell said Win Kelly's advertising over the next six weeks will point out that the Clarksville location can be reached more easily now. But the real boost, he said, will be from drivers who see the sign and showroom from the road. "They're going to see that we're pretty easy to get to," he said.

Dr. Philip W. Spaulding, a dentist who shares a family practice in a historic building he owns at the terminus of the new road, expects his office property to be "a lot more valuable" once the road opens.

"Hopefully, it will expand the practice," he said. "We're already growing, and we expect another 10,000 people [in the area]. It's a good position to be in. If new neighbors move in, so such much the better. It's kind of exciting times."

Sean Bennett, manager of Clarksville Exxon, said that 99 percent of his business is local but that if the state puts up signs alerting motorists that a gas station is at the end of the off ramp, that could change.

The new road might increase traffic past the station and, if nothing else, will make things more convenient for his customers, he said, adding, "It's really hard for them to get out at rush hour."

But even some of those pleased to see the new road warn that it could bring additional problems.

Trotter Road resident Aelred Geis is "delighted" that the freeway is opening but has concerns about its impact on Trotter Road. "It could become a stimulus for increased traffic on a tired old country road not designed to handle it," he said.

Mr. Geis, a wildlife biologist, and his wife, Shirley, president of the Trotter Road Citizens Association, lobbied the County Council in a failed attempt to make Trotter a cul-de-sac instead of an access route to the new freeway.

Mr. Geis also worries that the large number of deer along Trotter Road will create hazards for motorists both on Trotter Road and on the new freeway.

"I hope the chain-link fence they built will keep the deer off" the freeway, he said. "It's a public health issue."

And, although residents may be glad to get relief from the bottleneck at Routes 32 and 108, some question how long that relief will last.

"We'll probably be in the same predicament in another 10 years," said Ms. Smith, the St. Louis parish administrator.

Pub Date: 3/14/96

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