State rejects traffic plan for Route 175 intersections Decision prompts mixed reactions

September 27, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

State engineers have rejected Howard County's controversial plan to build two novel "dispersed movement" intersections along Route 175 -- the latest twist in a community quandary over how to improve congestion around Snowden River Parkway affordably.

The state's decision could cost Howard County more than $11 million if state officials recommend a cloverleaf-style overpass in the area. A long-term solution is perhaps years away.

Meanwhile, traffic is expected to worsen at Route 175's intersections with Snowden River and Dobbin Road next month with the opening Columbia Crossing, a warehouse-style retail center that features a Target store the size of three football fields.

The state's decision, which is binding because Route 175 is a state road, drew mixed reactions after being made public Wednesday night during a meeting of a task force studying the area's traffic problems.

East Columbia community leaders were elated. They still desire the more expensive cloverleaf-style intersection for Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway, which they say was originally promised by county officials when they approved plans for the Columbia Crossing shopping center.

But county and private engineers who designed the less expensive "dispersed movement" intersection maintained the plan would have worked at both Snowden River Parkway and Dobbin Road.

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who approved the innovative design earlier this year in his original 1997 fiscal budget, said state officials should have given the design more evaluation.

But in an interview yesterday, he acknowledged his doubts about dispersed movement.

"I don't want to put something in there that doesn't work," Ecker said. "I don't know if it would work or not work."

The dispersed movement design employs a series of timed traffic signals stationed several hundred feet in front of the intersection. The signals route left-turning cars across oncoming lanes and into new access roads. Dispersed movement is used at only one intersection in the nation, a lightly traveled entrance to a small college in Long Island.

The Route 175 intersections, on the other hand, must handle more traffic and more turning movements.

Already, 5,664 vehicles pass through the intersection of Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway during the peak hour of evening traffic, according to traffic studies done last year by county engineers.

By 2003, an additional 2,503 vehicles will pass through the intersection during the evening rush hour, according to estimates by the Rouse Co., which is developing Columbia Crossing.

With dispersed movement no longer in play, county and state engineers will consider five remaining options. Four of the options call for cloverleaf- or diamond-style interchanges at Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway, which will cost from $13 million to $17.5 million, said Ron Lepson, chief of Howard County's engineering department.

The fifth option, much less expensive, would add more lanes at Snowden River Parkway.

Meanwhile, the county plans to widen Route 175 to three lanes west of the Snowden River intersection, to help alleviate congestion at the Dobbin Road intersection, Lepson said. In addition, Rouse is building another left-turn lane at Dobbin Road.

Dispersed movement for both the Snowden River Parkway and Dobbin River intersections was expected to cost about $4.6 million, according to county budget documents.

Pub Date: 9/27/96

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