State plans wider Rt. 216

Only 4 of 6 lanes would be used in the initial phase

2.6-mile section affected

Expected growth in area by 2020 a factor in decision

North Laurel

November 13, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Striking what they believe is a good compromise on a hotly debated project, State Highway Administration officials have decided to expand a 2.6-mile stretch of Route 216 to six lanes but to initially limit traffic on part of the section to four lanes.

Proposals to widen the southern Howard County road from two to six lanes had attracted a great deal of opposition from residents, who showed up in force at two meetings this year to protest. Many objected to building six lanes because highway officials said the traffic wouldn't warrant it for years.

But highway planners preferred not to expand the road to four lanes because, they said, the road probably would have to be widened again in 15 years to accommodate thousands of residents and workers that two new developments will bring to southern Howard. Constructing the expansion in pieces would increase the cost and the frustrations to motorists, they said.

Highway officials said a resident suggested the compromise plan - building six lanes but "striping" only four travel lanes, leaving wide shoulders on either side.

Officials decided to do that on the section between U.S. 29 and Leishear Road, with plans to open the extra lanes about 2020, said Lora Rakowski, an agency spokeswoman. Route 216 from Leishear to Interstate 95 will open immediately as six lanes because traffic projections on that section are higher, she said.

Construction is expected to start next fall.

"As with any compromise, everyone has to give a little bit, but I think it's a win-win situation for most of the people," said Neil J. Pedersen, deputy administrator for planning and engineering with the highway administration.

The decision is likely to make at least some residents happy, but it fails to impress others unconvinced that six lanes will ever be needed. "It's an easy way out," said Stu Kohn of Scaggsville, who lives about a mile from Route 216. "Until they prove that six is warranted, I still say four."

The approach decided on for Route 216 - building extra lanes but not using them immediately - has been tried elsewhere. Centennial Lane in Ellicott City was built for five lanes but has lane stripes for three, said James M. Irvin, the county's director of public works.

Construction on Route 216 is expected to be completed at the end of 2004. The road will be straightened during the $30 million overhaul. It now heads west for about a mile past I-95, zags south on Leishear Road and continues west on Scaggsville Road.

Highway officials expect that 40,000 to 50,000 vehicles will travel on that 2.6-mile section of the road daily in 2020, a huge jump from the roughly 17,000 counted there three years ago.

Kohn said he remains opposed to plans for six lanes because he doesn't know whether the numbers are accurate. Highway officials did not share their methodology, making it impossible to consider the projections objectively, he said. Citizens have proved traffic predictions wrong before, he added.

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