Howard group's master plan calls for changes to U.S. 40

Ellicott City committee lists aesthetics, traffic flow as areas for improvement

January 05, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

As Howard County prepares for comprehensive rezoning this year, with substantial changes proposed for U.S. 1, some Ellicott City residents are thinking about what can be done for U.S. 40.

Drivers along the Baltimore National Pike during the evening rush hour have plenty of time to contemplate its problems.

Commuters often line up at intersections in the mostly commercial area between Normandy Woods Drive and Centennial Lane to connect with U.S. 29 and Interstates 695 and 70.

And local residents log miles negotiating the different entrances and exits of big-box retailers, restaurants and gas stations along the strip, which is marked by a mix of signs of different shapes and sizes.

Resident Grace Kubofcik has a simple description of U.S. 40: "Too much, too busy, too unattractive."

It wasn't always that way. The road, built after World War II, used to be more of a throughway.

"Route 40 carried all of the traffic until Route 70 came along" in the 1970s, said Joetta Cramm, a local historian who lives in Valley Meade, north of U.S. 40.

"We had all the semi trucks and everything coming through there," she said.

During the 1980s, retail and service operations sprang up along the road, which brought more traffic.

This growth along Ellicott City's major artery became a focus for a group that sought to devise proposals for Ellicott City's master plan.

That group's five-page report - which has not been formally submitted to or approved by the Howard County Council or county executive - includes suggestions on how to reduce visual clutter, ease traffic problems and improve the aesthetics of the area through landscaping and other means.

Kubofcik, who is a committee member, suggested that some elements, such as landscaping or the stonework that distinguishes Ellicott City's historic Main Street, be incorporated in U.S. 40 plans.

"Using some of the classically beautiful stone that is in Ellicott City would act as a focal point to lead people into that area, which is a super attraction," she said.

Because of the state's and county's budget problems, however, the suggestions may not be realized anytime soon.

"With the state of the economy, it's going to be difficult for the government to do any streetscaping in the future," said Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, who spearheaded the effort to write the master plan.

U.S. 40 is "primarily a retail service corridor," said Marsha McLaughlin, deputy planning director for Howard County. "It's more a question of polishing" than the revitalization that is required for U.S. 1.

She said she expects that the county will turn its attention to U.S. 40 after work on U.S. 1 is completed.

Comprehensive rezoning "may be an opportunity to look at how land is zoned along Route 40," Merdon said.

Kubofcik, who attended some of the U.S. 1 discussions as part of her research for the Ellicott City master plan, urged consideration of rezoning for U.S. 40, she said, to encourage office buildings similar to the Long and Foster building west of St. John's Lane.

Angela Beltram, a former county councilwoman and chairwoman of the U.S. 40 committee, thinks that incentives could motivate existing businesses to work with new ones to reduce clutter and traffic concerns.

For Beltram, the proliferation of signs contributes to the visual clutter. Some were grandfathered in under previous codes regulating signs.

She prefers consolidated marquee signs such as the one management company Northern Trading put up directing customers to Starbucks and The Breadery.

Bill Green of Northern Trading agreed.

Streetlights and decorative landscaping could "create a neighborhood sense rather than just a highway," he said.

The U.S. 40 committee also suggested connecting some of the businesses with sidewalks so people can walk rather than drive between nearby parking lots.

The State Highway Administration recently began a regional study, funded by Howard County, to determine what longer-term changes could improve traffic between St. John's Lane and Normandy Woods Drive, said SHA spokesman David Buck.

About 45,000 to 50,000 trips are made between St. Johns Lane and Rogers Avenue daily.

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