Construction at Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway is moving smoothly this summer, and so is traffic.
The intersection, one of the most heavily traveled in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, is in the second phase of a project that will transform Route 175 into an overpass. The project will eliminate traffic lights in the area and, officials hope, the long waits and congestion that have afflicted the intersection for years as traffic has increased.
"Right now, we're just beginning to pour the bridge deck that will connect 175 over Snowden River Parkway," said Lora Rakowski, public information officer for the State Highway Administration. "The final traffic pattern should be available by December."
Eventually, traffic on Snowden River Parkway - which links east Columbia with Route 100 - will pass beneath the Route 175 overpass.
But until that happens - probably around Christmas - those who use the road will have to deal with construction-related traffic lights and temporary lanes.
"Any time you change a major route it's going to be confusing at first," Rakowski said of early complaints about rerouting at the construction site. "We put some signs up directing traffic to the appropriate lanes and did some redesigning. It seems to be working well now."
The new intersection is a blessing to residents, said Henry Dagenais, chairman of the Long Reach Village Board.
By 2001, it 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 the next 20 years.
Dagenais served on a 10-member task force named by the county to study Route 175-Snowden River Parkway traffic problems and to offer possible solutions.
"The county had some ideas a few years ago about what to do, but I'm not sure they were as candid as they should have been with residents," Dagenais said. "We read about the original plan to deal with traffic in the paper."
Dagenais said the county's original idea was a combination of lane changes and traffic lights.
"The community was concerned about it, so the county asked 10 of us to examine various ideas," he said. "The overpass seemed to be the best way to deal with it."
Said Rakowski: "The whole purpose is to make traffic more efficient. Both roads are going to be widened from two to three lanes. The intersection should be safer and more efficient."
Timing was the only problem, Dagenais said.
The county was willing to make the improvements but wanted to wait until Route 100 was completed, hoping that it would reduce the amount of traffic on Route 175.
That happened in 1998, when a five-mile stretch of Route 100 was finished in 1998, creating a link between Ellicott City and Gibson Island in Anne Arundel County.
"My personal feeling was that it wouldn't take traffic off but channel more traffic in the area," Dagenais said.
Last year, the Howard County Council agreed to pay for the $16 million project at Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway and to split with the state the $31 million cost of a new interchange at U.S. 29 and Route 216.
Rakowski said the Route 175-Snowden River Parkway project is on schedule despite frequent rain and early delays.
She said the highway administration will allow traffic on the westbound side of the Route 175 overpass in mid-September and that final paving should take place in the spring.