Plans to ease I-695 traffic

State to add lanes on southwestern, northern stretches

November 16, 2001|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

The State Highway Administration outlined plans yesterday to ease congestion on the Baltimore Beltway by adding lanes in the heavily traveled southwestern and northern stretches of the highway.

Administration representatives, explaining the plans at a meeting with Baltimore County officials in Towson, said that although getting the money to add lanes - an expensive proposition - is a long way off, design and preliminary projects that need to be done are either completed or in the works.

While saying he was pleased with the $1.9 billion in transportation projects the state has slated for the county over the next six years, County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger criticized transportation officials for leaving out projects he called essential to the county's economic development efforts, most notably an additional interchange on Interstate 795 in Owings Mills.

"We are very concerned that if you don't build it ... they won't come," he said.

Highway officials said a top priority in the next few years would be to add a lane to the inner loop between Interstates 70 and 95. The state has begun work on a new lane on the outer loop in the same area.

The plan then is to add a lane in each direction between Interstate 83 north and I-95.

"I know it's a high priority for the region and one we're going to continue to work on," said Parker F. Williams, administrator of the highway administration.

Yesterday, the state held ribbon-cutting ceremonies for reconstructed Beltway bridges at Dulaney Valley and Providence roads. Overpasses at Liberty, Reisterstown, Falls and York roads are scheduled to be replaced in the next few years.

The new interchanges are designed to improve traffic flow and to be more aesthetically pleasing. More important, they are wider at the base, allowing for the addition of lanes, Williams said.

But Ruppersberger criticized the state for not considering a new interchange on Interstate 795 at Dolfield Road.

The nearby Owings Mills Boulevard interchange is overloaded and will become more congested as the state and county develop a town center at the Owings Mills Metro station, he said, adding that new traffic problems would jeopardize residential and commercial development at the site.

Williams replied that the state has to weigh how the Dolfield Road project would interact with other traffic improvements the state is considering for the town center area.

In addition, state budget-tightening in response to the slowing economy makes it less likely the department could add the project, he said.

"It's been a very strong transportation program over the last several years ... but fewer projects are going to get added this year," Williams said.

Ruppersberger also urged the state to resolve conflicts that have prevented the extension of Paper Mill Road in Hunt Valley, a project he said was critical to development of the area.

"The delay in this project is ridiculous and unacceptable," he said. "Paper Mill Road needs to be put on the fast track."

The executive also told state transportation officials that they need to study the possibility of bringing new rail lines to the county so the Baltimore region doesn't fall further behind Washington in public transit.

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