Ecker's interchange Governor's proposed road money zTC helps executive out of political jam.

January 20, 1998

GOV. PARRIS N. GLENDENING just bailed out Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who'd like to have the governor's job himself. Mr. Glendening's decision to fund two major Howard County road projects effectively gets the executive and Republican nominee for governor off the hot seat for changing course on a highway interchange that east Columbia residents angrily insist Mr. Ecker had promised years ago.

Residents were furious when Mr. Ecker changed his mind about building an interchange at Snowden River Parkway and Route 175. Some said the community supported development of a nearby shopping center only because the executive had included $9 million in his capital budget for the interchange. They believe the improvement is needed to allay traffic congestion worsened by the Columbia Crossing retail complex.

But Mr. Ecker stalled. He tried to save money by proposing a "dispersed movement" design. When that bizarre idea fizzled, he considered doing nothing. The executive then offered to pay half the interchange's $16 million cost provided the state pay the other half. Now he has agreed to fully fund the interchange after getting a commitment from the Democratic governor to help pay for two interchanges in southern Howard. Mr. Glendening, who faces primary and general election challenges, needs to

strengthen his own name in increasingly conservative suburbs such as Howard.

The improvement will alleviate rush-hour bottlenecks and prepare for the future. Traffic at the intersection is projected to rise by about 40 percent in five years. State funding of interchanges on Route 29 at Route 216 and Johns Hopkins Road is good news, too, but residents near there may have the opposite reaction. They fear that two mixed-use centers proposed for the area have a better chance of securing approval with improved roads.

Some southern Howard residents argue that allowing those improvements and subsequent development conflict with "smart growth." Rather, the mixed-use centers channel growth in logical places. Indeed, all three of these interchanges are needed. They confront the reality of existing traffic problems and help prepare for growth that may not come immediately, but is inevitable.

Pub Date: 1/20/98

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