Planners delete plans to improve Md. 97

Without state funds, project languished

January 24, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

After months of discussion, Carroll's Planning Commission has deleted proposed improvements to Route 97 in Woodbine from the county master plan, effectively ending any effort to make the highway a gateway to interstates in Howard and Montgomery counties.

A four-lane straight highway with ample shoulders has been part of state and county plans for nearly 40 years. Except for a brief stretch from Route 26 to Obrecht Road, the concepts never moved forward and the plan never won state funding.

David L. Brauning, vice chairman of the planning commission, said last week that the county has long known that "the state has no interest on doing anything on the worst part of 97." State help is vital in any highway project, officials said.

The project also faced strong opposition from Howard County residents along the highway, who feared increased traffic once the road was widened.

"The lack of state support, opposition from Howard County and environmental concerns mean we should remove this project from the master plan," said Steven C. Horn, county director of planning.

About five years ago, Carroll officials switched their focus for a gateway from Route 97 to Route 32 in Eldersburg, a highway that has been widened through much of Howard County to Interstate 95. Further improvements - from Clarksville to Interstate 70 - are in the discussion stage. Horn is a member of the committee studying those proposed improvements.

To encourage traffic to use Route 32, Carroll is working with the state on improvements along Route 26, also known as Liberty Road, and the county is proceeding with plans to upgrade Obrecht Road. Both roads would give traffic east-west alternatives for proceeding to Route 32.

"We have improved Route 97 from Route 26 to Obrecht Road and an improved Obrecht Road to Route 32 will give commuters on 97 an alternative road," Horn said.

The county for years had envisioned a widened Route 97 as a major commuter route and purchased "a good percentage" of the land between Route 26 and Obrecht Road that it would need for the project, Horn said. That segment was built years ago.

"The county has not acquired a lot of land south of Obrecht Road," he said. "For years, we were aggressive about protecting land for future state roads, but the state never followed up. The county never saw a return on its land investment. It is no longer prudent for us to spend local dollars to protect roadways that may never be built."

If the state ever wants to build a bigger highway, cost or land acquisition will not be a problem, said Ed Wheatley, planning commissioner.

"When the state or the federal government wants to do something, money is no object," Wheatley said. "If they want it, they do it."

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