East suburbs meeting west on long-awaited Route 100 Plan conceived in '60s to be done by 1999

September 05, 1996|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Call it Maryland's monument to the suburbs.

When a major section of Route 100 is completed this fall, the long-awaited east-west connector will not touch Baltimore or Washington -- or even brush their beltways.

Instead, the major highway will forge an uninterrupted link between the growing suburbs of Elkridge in Howard County and the Pasadena peninsula in Anne Arundel County.

And when the final phase of construction is completed by 1999, the highway will provide a 21 1/2 -mile shortcut for thousands of commuters traveling between Mountain Road on the east and U.S. 29 on the west.

Route 100 was conceived in the early 1960s, when Baltimore residents were just starting to migrate to split-levels and colonials with tidy lawns. Its first leg -- between Mountain Road and Interstate 97 -- was started when John F. Kennedy was president and the local heroes included a young third baseman named Brooks Robinson.

Since then, Anne Arundel and Howard have grown up, their combined population increasing nearly threefold. Ironically, the completion of Route 100 nears as Maryland's governor tries to put the brakes on suburban sprawl.

But the $170 million project -- a remnant of what was once a grand plan for an outer beltway -- already is changing the landscape south of Baltimore, spawning homes and businesses. Along its route, a shopping center is being built in Ellicott City, a warehouse distribution center is under construction in Elkridge and a 550-acre housing community is planned in Anne Arundel.

Route 100 will change lives, too.

It will ease the commute of suburbanites such as Lisa Malek and bring relief from the traffic congestion that ties up James Vecheck's neighborhood. It will realize a 25-year-old vision of developer Richard Alter and usher in the retirement of 68-year-old construction worker Ted Bowen.

Says Vecheck, who lives in an Anne Arundel community of brick ranchers called Timber Ridge, "This highway will make it a lot easier for everyone."

Highway officials estimate that 86,500 commuters will travel Route 100 daily by 2020. One of those awaiting an easier commute is Malek, a nurse at North Arundel Hospital in Glen Burnie.

Most evenings, Malek steers her red 8-year-old Toyota Celica out of the hospital parking garage between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., and within minutes is heading west on a completed stretch of Route 100.

But the road doesn't go far enough. Her 17-mile drive home to Ellicott City is interrupted by road construction that forces her north onto I-97, behind a string of other motorists.

"When I heard they were going to open Route 100, I thought, 'Yay!' But then they said it would be a few more years," Malek says. "I need it now."

At the end of I-97, she joins the throngs heading west on Baltimore's Beltway. Usually, she creeps behind traffic pouring out of the city as she heads toward Exit 15B onto U.S. 40 west.

From there, it's stop and go through six traffic lights until she turns left onto Rogers Avenue and then into her Oak West community, a trip that -- even with light traffic -- takes at least a half-hour. Usually, the commute is closer to 45 minutes.

When Route 100 opens between the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and I-97 in October, Malek may shave a few minutes off her drive. By 1999, when the highway is open all the way to U.S. 29, her commute will be a few miles shorter, but -- with almost the entire drive at 55 mph -- should take about half the time.

By giving drivers a new route to work, Route 100 should relieve traffic congestion in neighborhoods such as Timber Ridge.

Finally.

Vecheck, who has lived nearly 40 years in this neighborhood across Dorsey Road from Baltimore-Washington International Airport, has watched traffic on the road increase from 5,000 vehicles a day to 31,000, trapping residents in their cul-de-sacs.

Meanwhile, he has spent countless hours in meetings discussing the road with highway officials and neighbors. "I've gone to at least 25 or 30 meetings over the years," he says. "My grandchildren call Route 100 'Pap Pap's road.' "

"We wondered if they were ever going to get to this," he says.

Bits and pieces of Route 100 were completed over the years; now the road runs 11 intermittent miles, from a new interchange at U.S. 29 in Ellicott City to the road's terminus by a patch of wildflowers at Mountain Road in Pasadena.

In the middle, a 4.5-mile stretch between the parkway and I-97 awaits its first cars.

The road is paved, most of the traffic lines have been painted and some signs have been hung. Installation of guardrails, grading along shoulders and exit ramps, and final landscaping is supposed to be finished next month.

"And that won't be none too soon," Vecheck says.

Ted Bowen, 68, a grader for Haverhill Contracting Co., is one of more than 500 people who have labored on the Route 100 extension since the $100 million phase between I-97 and I-95 began in spring 1993.

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