Smooth ride in the works for commuters on U.S. 29


January 22, 2002|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

YOU'RE AN opinionated group of readers, and many of your views focused on your commutes back and forth on U.S. 29 - not surprising, considering that just more than one-third of Howard County working residents commute to Washington or to locations around the Capital Beltway.

It's clear that U.S. 29 is a key road to keep an eye on. Many noted - and this confirms my own experience - that commuting on U.S. 29 is troubled by regular backups at most of the major lighted intersections, beginning in Howard County and extending to Route 650 (New Hampshire Avenue).

But let's start with the bad news. Mike Vega of Highland and Don Oliver of Columbia both asked whether plans were in the works to convert the lighted intersection at River's Edge Road to another form of interchange.

According to State Highway Administration spokeswoman Lora Rakowski, there are no plans for changes at that intersection. The work order to install the signal was signed in 1993, and the light was put in soon after.

The concern has been around for a while, though. According to Rakowski, improvements to upgrade the intersection to interchanges were first addressed by SHA in the late 1980s. Safety being key, the signal was necessary to address traffic generated by development. SHA installed an intersection control beacon about a year ago to warn motorists of the signal.

Moving down the road, Deena White-Bedish of Ellicott City was the first of many who wondered when the construction at U.S. 29 and Johns Hopkins Road will be finished. That interchange is the second to be redesigned and built by SHA, and it is expected to be opened to traffic this fall. However, you will be seeing changes fairly soon. "Our goal is to open the new bridge carrying Johns Hopkins Road/Gorman Road over U.S. 29 to traffic in the mid- to late spring," Rakowski says.

`Rumors' of construction

Veterans of the U.S. 29 commute will be pleased to learn that the interchange project isn't confined to Howard County. Mark Middlebusher of North Laurel travels to McLean, Va., every day. Like many others, he has heard "rumors" of construction planned for the interchanges but wants more specifics. He asks: What intersections are going to be done? When are they going to start each one? When will they be finished with each one?

To the applause of many local residents and probably all commuters who travel U.S. 29 every day, the Route 216 interchange - the first to receive SHA attention - opened last summer. But these two interchanges are not going to be the only ones to be constructed - that's the good news. The bad news is that at least five more years will pass before all the interchange work is completed.

Clear path in Montgomery

Rakowski says that by the fall, SHA will break ground on two other interchanges along U.S. 29 in Montgomery County: at Route 198 and at Randolph Road.

Here's what you can expect:

U.S. 29 at Randolph Road: The new interchange will be a single-point diamond interchange with Randolph Road over U.S. 29. A detour road from Randolph and Cherry Hill roads, north of the existing intersection, is under construction to allow major utility relocations. Construction on the interchange will begin in late summer or early fall and be completed in the summer of 2005.

U.S. 29 at Route 198 and Blackburn Road: U.S. 29 will be relocated to cross over Route 198 on a bridge east of the existing intersection. The project will begin in the spring and is estimated to be completed in the summer of 2005.

U.S. 29 and Dustin Road: A roundabout will be included in the design of this interchange. It is worth noting that of the three Montgomery County interchanges funded for construction, this is the only one with a roundabout planned.

U.S. 29 at Briggs Chaney Road: Briggs Chaney Road will pass over U.S. 29. The project is slated to begin in the summer of next year and should be completed in the summer of 2006.

The remaining four interchanges, which are now in the design phase, are:

U.S. 29 at Greencastle Road.

U.S. 29 at Musgrove and Fairland roads.

U.S. 29 at Tech Road/Industrial Parkway.

U.S. 29 at Stewart Lane.

The interchange improvements, Rakowski says, are part of "an effort to improve mobility along the congested north-south corridor. Upon completion of these 10 interchanges and elimination of nearly all signalized intersections between Routes 216 and 650, there will be nearly 14 miles of smooth sailing along U.S. 29."

What's your driving dilemma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at Technophobes can mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 5570 Sterrett Place, Suite 300, Columbia 21044, or fax 410-715-2816.

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