Project opponent fails to delay highway

Some neighbors fight work on interchanges needed for development

March 20, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

An opponent of the large Maple Lawn development proposed for southern Howard County tried to enlist Montgomery County legislators to delay a state highway interchange important to the project.

The gambit failed after Howard legislators objected, but it highlights how worries about traffic related to the huge Maple Lawn development proposed for Iager Farm don't stop at the Howard-Montgomery county line.

John F. Breitenberg is a lawyer-lobbyist who lives in Fulton and has been working against the 508-acre Maple Lawn Farms development proposed for Iager Farm. He argued that completion of the $28 million interchange at U.S. 29 and Johns Hopkins Road would speed traffic out of Howard County only to worsen congestion in southern neighbor Montgomery.

He proposed the delay to state Sen. Ida G. Ruben, who is chairwoman of the Montgomery Senate delegation and a member of the Senate committee that examines the capital budget.

The project, subject of county zoning board hearings, would have 1,168 homes and more than 1 million square feet of commercial space. Another major interchange that would provide the main southern access to the project is under construction on U.S. 29 at Route 216. Johns Hopkins Road intersects with U.S. 29 north of Iager Farm.

"Their constituents will hurry up until they get to the gridlock in Montgomery County," Ruben said, worried that Howard's interchanges and new mixed-use developments will overwhelm the traffic-choked highway in her county before planned improvements are made.

A proposed amendment to the state's capital budget would have tied completion of Howard's interchange, scheduled for early 2002, to similar projects planned for seven Montgomery intersections along U.S. 29 now slated to come later.

Idea rejected

"I'm like, why are you fooling with Howard County?" recalled Baltimore-Howard state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, a Democrat who sits on the capital budget subcommittee of the Budget and Tax Committee.

Breitenberg met with all three Howard senators recently, but the three rejected the idea.

"You can't just come down here and overturn a decision that's been made. It's just not the way the process works," said Sen. Martin G. Madden, a Republican who represents southern Howard. County Executive James N. Robey also opposed the proposal after he learned about it, his lobbyist, Herman Charity, said.

"He's a very creative and effective representative," Howard/ Montgomery Sen. Christopher J. McCabe said of Breitenberg.

Howard County's projects have moved faster, he said, because the county was unified and came up with local money. "There was a delicate balance, an agreement between the county and the state, that was good for commuters," he said.

Howard agreed in 1998 to pay about half of the $85 million cost of three interchanges. To speed the work, the county said it would front the full cost of the first job, at Snowden River Parkway and Route 175, pay half the cost of the interchange at Routes 216 and 29, and have the state pay the full cost of the third job, at U.S. 29 and Johns Hopkins Road.

Regional approach sought

Breitenberg and other activists on both sides of the county border said neighboring counties should work together on these problems instead of getting turf conscious.

"It is utterly perverse and illogical from a strategic standpoint to do those intersections up there before they do the ones down here," said Stuart Rochester, a Montgomery activist who testified against Maple Lawn at Howard County's long-running Zoning Board hearing.

Breitenberg is undeterred by criticism.

"I still think it was the right thing to do. It's an issue of responsible regionalism," he said, explaining that Howard's deal to provide local money up front to speed rebuilding of the three congested intersections has "skewed the natural timing" of other projects along U.S. 29.

"This doesn't happen in a vacuum. A lot of that traffic will go south. Montgomery County has a 15-year moratorium on development in eastern Montgomery," he said.

All of the Howard intersections should be finished by early 2002, but work on the first two in Montgomery County -- U.S. 29 at Route 198 in Burtonsville, and at Randolph Road -- will be starting then.

Another project, at Briggs Chaney Road and U.S. 29, is to begin in 2003, with four more to start later in the decade, said a State Highway Administration spokeswoman.

Montgomery County Councilwoman Marilyn Praisner said she has proposed a regional conference this summer on state plans for Interstate 95 -- the highway Montgomery officials see as the main corridor through Central Maryland, rather than U.S. 29.

Howard officials angry

But Howard officials -- including Robey -- are upset at what they see as an attempted end-run. "That's my feeling," Robey said.

"What's so shocking to me is that someone who lives in Howard County and supports the county would take such a chance doing this to the largest employer in the county -- Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab," said county Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr.

Without the interchange, he said, APL could not expand if it wished, because the existing intersection is too congested.

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