Md. to give bulk of funds for road plan

State to provide $19.7 million for U.S. 29 widening

County to pay $4 million

Addition of lanes made necessary by Route 100 popularity Howard County

January 26, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

With morning commuter traffic backing up daily onto Interstate 70, Maryland highway officials have agreed to provide most of the money to widen U.S. 29 along three miles in Ellicott City in an effort to relieve the congestion.

The morning - and evening - bumper-to-bumper jams testify to the popularity of the $289 million Route 100 project, which provided a new freeway connecting Ellicott City to Interstate 95.

Shortly after that road opened in November 1998, motorists drawn to the smooth, curvy new highway found themselves crowded on U.S. 29 - southbound drivers waiting to get on the new road each morning, and northbound drivers waiting to exit each evening.

"Clearly, it's needed now. The irony is that when we opened Route 100, we thought we'd be taking traffic off other roads in Howard County. Western county legislators used to use Route 97 and 32 to go to Annapolis, but now they use Route 100," said Del. Elizabeth Bobo, the Howard delegation chairwoman. Large new highways, she said, are "absolutely magnets for cars. Does that mean they're bad? No."

"I think the expansion is welcome. It serves more than just Howard countians, but also people who work in Columbia each day," said state Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, who represents the area. "I drive it every day. ... It's a great link between two counties."

Despite the daily congestion, McCabe argued that Maryland has a good road system. The longest delay at Route 100, he said, is usually no more than five minutes.

County Executive James N. Robey said the inclusion of the money in the state transportation budget "means that relief is on the horizon for U.S. 29 commuters," though the General Assembly must approve the budget.

If legislators give their approval, the state would provide $19.7 million, and Howard County would pay $4 million, for an 18-month project not expected to begin until 2003. That's a startling contrast with what Howard officials first thought would be a $2 million to $3 million widening of lanes.

"There's a lot more to it than just [adding lanes]," said James M. Irvin, director of the county Department of Public Works.

Because the two lanes - one for each direction on U.S. 29- would be added in the highway median, more drainage and storm-water facilities would have to be built, along with jersey walls to separate the traffic and sound barriers that cost $1 million a mile. In addition, one lane would be added to each connecting ramp between U.S. 40, U.S. 29 and Route 100, and a new westbound ramp would provide northbound motorists another way to reach westbound I-70 in the evenings. The new lanes would be constructed between Route 100 and U.S. 40, with the other improvements stretching north to I-70, state officials said.

Getting an agreement with the state took months of talks, Irvin said, but the fact that back-ups are stalling traffic on eastbound I-70 in the mornings helped convince state officials to take action.

"This will be good for everybody," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, who also represents the area.

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