Officials weigh wider road

Robey wants to expand 4-lane part of Route 108

Plan would cost $5 million

Development has made thoroughfare congested

Howard County

March 08, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Howard County officials are considering paying for widening about a mile of state-owned Route 108 just west of U.S. 29 to alleviate what they consider unsafe congestion.

The road, which skirts Columbia's northern and western edge, has become the main route between U.S. 29, the county's main thoroughfare, and hundreds of homes and businesses that have been built as the planned town and its environs developed.

County Executive James N. Robey said that "108 has been a major route of choice for lots of people" in Montgomery and Baltimore counties as well as Howard, and he'd like to extend the four-lane portion of the road from west of Columbia Road, ending west of Centennial Lane.

"It carries much more than it was designed to," he said.

Still, a lot has to happen before the proposal becomes reality. Robey would have to include the project in his fiscal 2005 budget, which the County Council will consider. Howard would then have to negotiate an agreement with the state. The county's dedicated excise tax for road projects would pay the $5 million bill, officials said.

Approval from residents will also be key, said James M. Irvin, the county's public works chief.

The project would require land on the north side of Route 108, and improving intersections at Ten Mills Road and Centennial Lane, Irvin said.

Increased traffic

Traffic on the road at Centennial Lane has more than quadrupled since 1980, when an average of 9,000 vehicles used Route 108 each day, said State Highway Administration spokesman Dave Buck. In 2002, the most recent year for which data are available, the average number of daily trips was 37,275.

But the biggest jump came during Columbia's early boom years, between 1980 and 1990, Buck said. In 1990, 28,475 vehicles traveled on the road. Between 1995 and 2002, average daily trips increased by about 2,265 vehicles, which matches expected growth, Buck said.

Many agree that the changes are necessary. "It will definitely help the intersection," said Anthony "Skip" Scarpone, who lives on Route 108 near the new Iron Bridge Wine Company, a wine bar.

"The most dangerous time is not the busy time. The most dangerous time is when the traffic isn't heavy because at that time the cars are speeding - 45 or 50 miles an hour," Scarpone said

In August, acting on complaints from residents, Robey requested a study of safety improvements for the Route 108-Centennial Lane intersection - though it was fourth on his list of transportation priorities for the state to consider funding. Irvin said the Route 108 report, which the county received late last year, recommended the widening to ease further problems and increase road capacity.

New development

New development in the area around Centennial Lane - with the petting zoo and vegetable stand on former state Sen. James Clark's farm, and the wine bar - makes these improvements critical. Families will soon be traveling on the road for games at the Covenant Park soccer complex as well, officials said.

"Without something like this, the activity in this quadrant would have really created some challenges," said County Councilman Ken Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat who supports the idea.

The widening might require some land from Clark's farm, which borders Route 108 and is in the state agricultural land preservation program. He operates a farm market, and his daughter Martha has a small petting zoo, with a new entrance that's almost finished.

Clark said the highway administration has a 60-foot easement on the front of his property for Route 108 expansions.

"It's overloaded, no question about that," he said.

Most of the rest of the land for the project would come from Centennial Park on the north side of 108, Irvin said, although it may not be easy to get that approved.

Also under consideration is leveling the first hill west of Centennial Lane to improve sight distances, he said. Improvements to the intersections at Centennial Lane and Ten Mills Road would include additional turn lanes, and Ten Mills would get additional sidewalks for safer crossings.

Even if approved now, work probably wouldn't begin until 2006 at the earliest, Irvin said. "The big problem will be maintenance of traffic" during the construction period, which could be about nine months.

Residents' concerns

Iron Bridge co-owner Rob Wecker said the wine bar is working with the highway administration to improve conditions in front of the business. "If folks abided by the speed limit, it wouldn't be as much of an issue," he said.

Others were more skeptical that improvements could solve the problem.

"There's already way too much traffic on 108," said Joel Barry Brown, who has lived on the road since 1987. "What they should not have done is permitted a number of the developments on Centennial Lane."

Jeff Marcus of the Dorsey's Search village board worried that widening the road might spur commercial rezoning requests on the mostly residential corridor.

But he recognized the need for traffic improvements.

Driving home from work, Marcus said, "I can see the trail of red taillights."

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