Highway plan doesn't include funds for Route 216 realignment State officials promise project is still in works

October 16, 1998|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

A state highway plan for Howard County unveiled last night did not include construction money for the realignment of Route 216 in Scaggsville, which did not surprise county officials.

"It was disappointing, but not unexpected," said Carl Balser, chief of transportation planning for the county Department of Planning and Zoning. "It's not the end of the world but it would've been reassuring to see it in the program."

Transportation Secretary David L. Winstead pointed out that the state still has two years to earmark money for construction and continues to be committed to realigning Route 216 -- a project that has been in the works for at least two decades.

"I think the important thing to keep in mind is that we have every intent to keep this moving forward," Winstead said. "It's not something that we are ignoring."

James Irvin, director of the county Department of Public Works, noted that the highway plan is a draft and can be amended before a final version is produced in January.

"This is the beginning of the process, not the end," he said. "You always have to be optimistic."

Motorists driving between Interstate 95 and U.S. 29 in the southeastern corner of the county use Scaggsville and Leishear roads, narrow two-lane avenues with access to many driveways.

More than $2 million has been dedicated to the site acquisition and engineering stages of the realignment. Ninety percent of the site acquisition phase is complete and the design stage will begin in December, Winstead said.

The state and county have agreed to share the $20 million cost, but it is unclear how much the county will provide.

For years, the project split local homeowners. Many had grown weary of battling traffic on Scaggsville and Leishear roads. Route 216 carries 12,000 vehicles a day -- a count that is expected to grow to about 43,000 cars a day by 2020, according to state estimates.

Others argued that the realignment would encourage development of three mixed-use sites of more than 2,600 homes.

Greg Fries, who chairs the Southern Howard Land Use Committee, said the latter argument has been losing ground.

"I think you'll find a lot more support for realigning 216 than years past," he said. "It's not an issue of encouraging development. It's an issue of handling inevitable development."

Peter J. Oswald, former president of Greater Beaufort Park Citizens Association in nearby Fulton, said improvements to Route 216 should extend beyond U.S. 29 because of a plan to build a 1,168-home development in Fulton.

"They shouldn't look at dead-ending it at 29," Oswald said. "They should look at what [the Fulton mixed-use plan] is going to do and address that."

Community leaders have contended that major projects should be delayed until the road network is improved, but Alton J. Scavo, senior vice president of Rouse Co., which has received preliminary approval for a 1,201-home mixed-use center at Route 216 and Interstate 95, said the project is not dependent on the realignment.

But state Del. John S. Morgan, a Republican whose district includes North Laurel, called Scavo's statement "laughable."

"You can't build 1,200 homes and not have an impact on the local road," Morgan said.

Pub Date: 10/16/98

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