Road still tied up in controversy Activists say build overpass right away

officials want to wait

March 19, 1997|By DAN MORSE | DAN MORSE,SUN STAFF

Two reports issued yesterday did little to clear up the controversy surrounding the overloaded intersection of Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway.

Construction of a $16 million overpass -- which east Columbia residents say was promised to them by the county in 1995 -- could be at least two years away, if it is built at all.

A government report on the overpass was issued by state and Howard County officials who served on a task force examining its need. That report surfaced the same day as a separate report on the overpass, issued by community activists who served on the same committee.

The activists said they have waited so long for the official report -- and for the overpass -- that they are convinced that neither state nor county officials care what they say.

"This is ridiculous, damn near five months," said Henry F. Dagenais, a retired U.S. Army colonel who lives in Columbia's Long Reach village and served on the task force. "That gives the indication that they weren't serious about us at all. They were just trying to placate the natives."

Dagenais -- joined by Long Reach community leader Sarah Uphouse -- also questioned the timing of the official report, suggesting that it was prompted by release of the activists' report.

But Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who said he had read a draft of the official report two months ago, said he has listened to the community's concerns.

Ecker is negotiating with the state for $6 million in overpass aid for the Route 175 intersection -- as well as millions of dollars more for the intersections of U.S. 29 with Route 216 and with Hopkins Road. Each of the three intersections involves at least one state road.

Ultimately, Ecker may side with the community activists, who want the overpass built immediately. If he gets funding help from the state, he said yesterday, he might start construction of the intersection before Route 100 opens.

But Ecker would not say what he would do if he does not get sufficient state funds. "I don't want to paint myself into a corner," he said.

State Sen. Martin G. Madden, a fellow Republican, said Howard County officials promised the Route 175 overpass nearly two years ago when they approved the massive Columbia Crossing retail center near the intersection. Yesterday, he again called on the county to fully fund the intersection -- without state funds.

Whether or not the county does so will be played out over the next two months as the County Council debates Ecker's proposed budget.

In it, Ecker has allocated $10 million in county funds for the intersection, and indicates he hopes to receive $6 million from the state. (The total price, with short-term improvements and design work, is expected to total about $16 million, county officials said.)

Ecker's budget position is his fourth on the intersection.

In the past, he has twice proposed a more expensive overpass and has also proposed a complex "dispersed movement" intersection that involved a series of traffic lights and turning lanes.

The latest developments in the controversy came yesterday, with the two reports.

Both reports grew out of a task force of six government engineers and six community activists set up last spring to study the intersection.

Within months, the task force had decided that a $13 million overpass was needed.

The community activists wanted to build it right away. The engineers wanted to wait at least two years -- which would allow them to see if the completion of Route 100 between U.S. 29 and Interstate 95 would relieve congestion at the intersection.

In October, state engineer Gene Straub said a task force report would be issued in November. In January, another state engineer, Steve Foster, said a report would be issued that month.

Yesterday, two reports surfaced. The six activists delivered their report to State Highway Administrator Parker F. Williams and to Ecker.

The two reports essentially said the same thing -- that the activists want to build now and that officials want to wait until Route 100 is completed, which is now expected to be in 1999.

"Why don't we wait until Route 100 opens -- and then we can more definitively measure the impact of Route 100?" Ron Lepson, a county engineer, said. "That was our logic."

Pub Date: 3/19/97

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