CA urges Ecker to build overpass Letter tells executive to honor commitment on Route 175 project

December 19, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Association's governing body -- showing its recently more aggressive political stance -- will join a growing list of local officials urging Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker to build an expensive overpass in east Columbia.

The association board of directors is expected to approve a letter tonight that -- in its draft form -- accuses Ecker of backing off his commitment last year to fix traffic congestion at Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway.

"We trust that you will keep your promise," the letter reads.

The large homeowners' association manages Columbia's park and open space areas. Its governing body, made up of one elected representative from each of the planned community's 10 villages, recently has been more active in lobbying for Columbia's interests at the county level.

For instance, members of the board of directors testified at a budget hearing this month that more county funds should spent in Columbia on such programs as roadside mowing.

Yesterday, County Councilman C. Vernon Gray also said Ecker should build the $13 million overpass with county funds.

Gray, who represents east Columbia on the council, pointed out that engineers rate traffic flow on a scale of A to F. "This is operating at G," said Gray, adding that drivers traveling north on Snowden River Parkway during rush hours must wait up to three light cycles. "I've sat there."

Ecker appropriated nearly $20 million this year to build an overpass at the intersection. But during a recent hearing for next year's proposed county budget, Ecker said he would be willing to fund only $6.5 million of a less elaborate, $13 million overpass and would ask the state to pick up the rest.

Route 175 is a state road while Snowden River Parkway is a county road.

A group of state legislators who represent Howard County said the state money is not available, and Ecker should stick to his original plan.

In the past, the county has funded improvements to some noncounty roads, such as the recent widening of U.S. 29 north of Columbia.

And now CA's governing body is saying Ecker should do the same at Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway.

The association's draft letter to Ecker, supplied by CA yesterday, reads: "It's important for you to make this commitment in the upcoming budget, not only from the standpoint of alleviating traffic problems at a major intersection, but also showing the public that the county can be counted on to keep its word."

The controversy over the intersection began last year, when the county Planning Board approved the mammoth Columbia Crossing retail center near Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway -- noting that Ecker's budget plans included a proposed overpass there to improve traffic flow.

Ecker said yesterday the overpass was never promised. He said his capital budget -- like those of other governments -- fluctuates as needs and money sources fluctuate. "There's a lot of movement," Ecker said.

He repeated his belief that when Route 100 opens between Interstate 95 and Snowden River Parkway, it will pull traffic from Route 175. Routes 100 and 175 run parallel. Route 100 is to connect Interstate 95 with Snowden River Parkway and U.S. 29 in 1999.

And Ecker said even if county and state engineers started designing the overpass today, it would not be completed by late 1999.

Two County Council members said yesterday they support Ecker's position.

Dennis R. Schrader, a Republican who represents north Laurel and parts of south Columbia, said the county should see what it can get from the state. Charles C. Feaga, a Republican from western Howard, was more blunt: "We simply cannot afford to build it. I think the state has to contribute."

Also weighing into the interchange debate is the Howard County Chamber of Commerce, which is concerned about the potential for traffic problems slowing growth on Columbia's burgeoning eastern edge -- the scene of new homes, new stores and new warehouse/distribution facilities that have been made out of abandoned factories.

In its 1997 "Legislative Action" statement, the chamber calls for "The full funding and earliest possible construction of the Route 175 interchange at Snowden River Parkway, which is critical to the area's economic development."

But the chamber has not taken a position on who should pay for the intersection.

"What we're saying is, 'Let's get it done,' " said W. Stephen Pindell, chairman of the chamber's legislative affairs committee.

Pub Date: 12/19/96

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