Route 216 might end up with four lanes after all - sort of.
State Highway Administration officials, whose proposal to widen a portion of the southern Howard County road from two lanes to six has been met with howls of protest from dozens of nearby residents, are now considering a compromise: Expand the road to six lanes but use only four until traffic justifies the rest. Until then, the extra space would act as shoulders.
Highway officials had intended to build the six-lane road without shoulders to encourage drivers to obey the 45-mph speed limit.
Neil J. Pedersen, deputy administrator for planning and engineering with the highway administration, said yesterday that a resident suggested the idea and that he intends to investigate it.
"There seems to be a lot of interest in that concept," he said. "My response was, it was an intriguing idea and it certainly warrants us looking at it very carefully."
He expects a final decision on the number of lanes in several weeks.
James M. Irvin, the county's director of public works, said that approach - building extra lanes but not using them immediately - has been tried elsewhere, including on Centennial Lane. The Ellicott City road was built for five lanes, but has lane stripes for three, he said.
Highway officials want to straighten and widen Route 216 between U.S. 29 and Interstate 95. The 2.6-mile stretch is expected to see an increasing amount of traffic in the near future as several large mixed-use developments are constructed in the area. Work on the $30 million road project is supposed to begin next fall and be finished two years later.
Mike Haley, a regional planner with the highway administration, told residents at a community meeting last week that if the road is widened to four lanes, it probably would have to be expanded again in 15 years to accommodate increased traffic. He said the agency designs highway projects to work well for 20 years.
Some residents approve of the six-lane plan. But most of the 200 people at the meeting hated it, calling it a superhighway through a relatively rural area that would not benefit their community.
John Adolphsen of Fulton said yesterday that four lanes with shoulders sounds just right to him.
"If in 20 or 25 years they need two more lanes, let's address that question then," he said. But he doesn't think officials should convert the shoulders into extra lanes. A six-lane road should have shoulders so people with car trouble have a place to pull over, he said.
"I do not like six lanes with curbs on both sides," Adolphsen said. "They say it's going to slow traffic down. I do not believe it."