Route 32 plan estimated at $200 million

Nine miles of road would be widened

Safety is worth it, Robey says

Hopes are revived project may go forward

October 26, 2003|By Liz F. Kay and Larry Carson | Liz F. Kay and Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

State transportation officials have put a $200 million price tag on widening nine miles of Route 32 to Howard's rural west, reviving hopes that the project, which has lain dormant for nearly a decade, may go forward.

County Executive James N. Robey and members of the state delegation said the work on Route 32, designed to ease congestion on the road where it narrows to two lanes between Route 108 and Interstate 70, was expensive.

But they agreed that it has to be done.

The widening project "is one of the most critical needs we have," Robey said. "I hope to see it in my lifetime."

He listed the project third on Howard's list of transportation priorities for state funding for next year, behind improvements to U.S. 1 and U.S. 29.

After a meeting with transportation officials Thursday night in an annual session to discuss local projects, Robey said he wasn't surprised by the high cost and that the unsafe conditions warrant the change. It is hard to assign a price to a human life "when you look at the number of people who have died and who have been injured," he said.

State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen said his agency will make an announcement about a long-awaited land-use study detailing the effect the new lanes will have on western development after state officials meet with Howard's elected officials during the next month to discuss the results.

The hefty cost of the widening project stems from the need to build a service road that would provide consolidated access for homeowners whose driveways link directly to Route 32, Pedersen said after the meeting.

During the 90-minute meeting at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City, Pedersen said that although land for the expansion has been purchased, not all of the property owners have agreed to give up access rights to the road.

He also noted that that road could warrant six interchanges, which can cost $20 million to $25 million each.

The $200 million estimate includes costs for things such as design, sound barriers and additional right-of-way acquisition, said State Highway Administration spokeswoman Lora Rakowski.

Extending Route 100 from the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to U.S. 29 cost $214 million, she said.

"It's a nightmare" to drive on Route 32 during rush hour, Robey said during the meeting. "I told members of my family to avoid it."

A number of elected and appointed officials who attended the meeting had personal or political interests in the project.

"It's got to be done," said Del. Gail H. Bates, a western Howard Republican, whose home backs on Route 32.

"It's expensive. But it's something we have to look at," said Del. Warren E. Miller, a Republican also from western Howard County.

He said he was hopeful federal funding would help pay the cost, "but at some point, we have to improve the road."

Western county Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a Republican, said the $200-million-plus price tag "was pretty steep" but added, "I hope something happens. I want 32 improved," he said.

Although there are residents who oppose the widening plan, "90 percent or more are for it," he added.

Deborah Izzi, who leads the Citizens' Alliance for Rural Preservation, a group opposed to the project, was not surprised by the high cost of widening the road.

"It was $160 million a few years ago," she said. "It's probably even going to be higher than that."

"That's a lot of money to be spending on a short section of road," she added.

The trip to western Howard using U.S. 29 and Interstate 70 is only three miles longer, Izzi said.

There was some debate about the report by the land-use panel, which last met more than two years ago.

Kittleman said he thought the long wait to hear from the land-use panel "was a delaying tactic."

"I figured they weren't putting it out because it didn't support what they wanted," Izzi said.

State Sen. Robert H. Kittleman, the councilman's father, said his constituents in Carroll County are also eagerly awaiting the widening.

"That's their entrance to the world," he said.

The Sykesville area could be attractive to businesses, but "they've got to be able to get there," he said.

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