Route 32 plans to be discussed at forum tonight State project would create four lanes over nine-mile stretch

Opponents fear traffic

June 16, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

A nine-mile stretch of Route 32 in western Howard County -- not so long ago a country road used mostly by farmers -- is moving one step closer to becoming a major thoroughfare for suburban commuters.

At a public meeting tonight at Glenelg High School, State Highway Administration officials will meet with community leaders and area residents to unveil updated plans to expand the two-lane road to four lanes.

SHA officials presented plans to residents two years ago and heard concerns about the environmental impact of the expansion on nearby streams and the dangers posed by seven interchanges along the proposed highway.

"We've made some changes to what we originally proposed, and now we need feedback from residents who live in the area before this goes to a public hearing in December," said Robert Ritter, the project manager.

He said slight adjustments have been made to interchanges at Linden Church Road, the SHA shop in Dayton and Nixon's Farm near Route 144. Engineers are trying to minimize the impact on small streams that feed into the Middle Patuxent, Ritter said.

The state would pay for the expansion, estimated to cost between $135 million and $155 million, depending on the final design. If approved, construction could begin early in the next century.

Route 32 runs for 47 miles from Interstate 70 in Carroll County to Annapolis. It has become a popular route for commuters heading to Washington, Baltimore or Annapolis from Howard, Carroll and Frederick counties. With increased development in those counties turning rural areas into suburbs, planners say the traffic along Route 32 will more than double in the next decade.

Recent traffic counts along the nine-mile stretch show that between 15,900 and 18,300 vehicles use the road daily. If the road is not improved, traffic experts expect between 26,700 and 29,900 vehicles a day to travel on the road by 2020.

Without the improvements, Route 32 will become a traffic nightmare, planners said.

"We've got significant traffic on the road today," Ritter said. "By the year 2020, this road is going to be heavily congested. People who live on Route 32 are having problems getting on to the road now and it is going to get worse in the future."

But many residents along Route 32 point to predictions by traffic experts that an expanded road will carry as many as 44,000 vehicles a day. They say that building four lanes doesn't solve problems, just invites more traffic, and brings a rise in accidents and noise.

"We don't want that interstate freeway out here that they're proposing," said Debbie Izzi, a member of Citizens Alliance for Rural Preservation, a grass-roots group that is fighting the expansion. "We would like to see them put in a median with a turning lane instead. It's going to be like another Beltway outside of Baltimore."

Many residents want the state to reduce the speed limit on the road, now 55 mph, because several driveways intersect the road and school buses stop along it.

SHA reports show that the accident rate on Route 32 is significantly higher than the statewide average for similar highways. In 1997, there were 163.4 accidents per million vehicle miles on Route 32. Two of those accidents were fatal.

Although some SHA planners and commuters say traffic on Route 32 will ease when the Howard County section of Route 100 opens this fall, the change is not likely to be significant.

Izzi says residents who live along Route 32 complain that since a 2.4-mile stretch of the road from Clarksville south toward Interstate 95 expanded to a four-lane, limited access highway two years ago, traffic -- especially large trucks -- has skyrocketed on the two-lane portions.

The problem for those on the four-lane portion is noise, according to Izzi. The tested noise levels along much of the roadway are 66 decibels -- the necessary level for barriers -- but because the area is sparsely populated, it does not quality for the barriers.

Residents want the noise barriers -- for the current and any future four-lane portions of the road -- included in expansion plans.

"They have to put the noise barriers forward first [in the planing part] because if they don't it won't ever make it into the budget and we won't get them," said Izzi.

Pub Date: 6/16/98

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