Taking the high road

Overpass : Highway officials begin work on relieving congestion at Snowden River Parkway and Route 175.

August 22, 1999|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Relief is on the way for motorists who traverse two of Howard County's busiest intersections -- U.S. 29 at Route 216 and Route 175 at Snowden River Parkway.

Crews have started construction of new overpasses at the crossings, which cause daily backups during the morning and evening rush hours.

Work on a third intersection -- U.S. 29 and Johns Hopkins Road -- won't begin until next summer at the earliest.

A new traffic signal-free interchange at Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway in east Columbia is expected to open in the fall of 2000 -- nearly a year before the U.S. 29 and Route 216 project in Scaggsville is completed.

Work on the Columbia junction will create a confusing detour for drivers.

The intersection will shut down Oct. 1 to allow crews to dig a tunnel beneath Route 175 for a realigned Snowden River Parkway.

Motorists driving east and west on Route 175 will be directed to detours that will bypass the crossing. Drivers seeking Snowden River Parkway will be directed to another detour.

Although the traffic signal will be taken out and two temporary lights will be added on the detour roads, State Highway Administration officials said they don't expect congestion to worsen.

"This is nothing that we haven't done before," said Dennis March, an area engineer with the state agency. "We try to come up with the least disruptive approach to the motoring public that still allows us to build it."

Added assistant district engineer Mark Flack: "This is the only way to do this, short of shutting the intersection down."

That option would be a nightmare at Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway, which is one of the most heavily traveled intersections in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

By 2001, the intersection is expected to handle more than 75,000 vehicles a day, according to state highway estimates. That count is projected to grow to more than 92,000 vehicles a day in 2021.

March said the volume of traffic moving through the intersection and a long traffic signal contribute to the backup.

"It was getting to be a dangerous intersection," he said, adding that pressure from development was growing. "This was a need that had to happen."

Last year, the Howard County Council agreed to pay for the $16 million project at Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway and split the $31 million cost with the state for a new interchange at U.S. 29 and Route 216.

Construction crews have started to build detour roads at U.S. 29 and Route 216, where a bridge will span U.S. 29, which will remain open; motorists driving on Route 216 will be rerouted to the detour roads.

Detour roads are also being built at Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway. Once the bypasses -- north and west of the intersection -- are finished by Oct. 1, crews will begin to excavate more than 200,000 yards of dirt beneath the crossing.

The plan involves linking the north side of Snowden River Parkway to the south side under a Route 175 bridge. March said Route 175 could open as early as June 2000 with the entire interchange finished by fall.

Portions of the detour roads will be retained as ramps for the interchange.

Henry Dagenais, who is chairman of the Long Reach Village Board and participated in a 10-member task force that studied the Route 175-Snowden River Parkway project, said he is excited about the construction.

"You're never sure that it will go through until someone shows up and they did," Dagenais said, referring to the construction crews. "Once it's started, you know it will be completed."

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