3 options under study for Harford I-95 stretch

No changes, highway widening, express toll lanes weighed at state hearing in Abingson

December 16, 2007|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Special to the Sun

Imagine driving Interstate 95 south from Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen to the Interstate 895/I-95 split in Baltimore in 22 minutes, at 65 mph, in rush hour traffic.

Cutting the current drive time in half and doubling the average traveling speed is the objective of one of three options by state highway officials for a 16-mile section passing through Harford County.

"Our purpose is to address the capacity and the safety issues of the highway," Melissa R. Williams, a planning manager for the Maryland Transportation Authority, said at a public hearing last week in Abingdon. "We want to make the road safer and keep the traffic moving."

The option entails adding two express toll lanes in each direction, running from New Forge Road in Baltimore County to Route 543 in Harford.

Williams said the cost of the toll has yet to be determined, but it would probably be in the range of 10 cents to 20 cents a mile. The rate could be adjusted, she said, as the state tries to control the volume of traffic to retain the 65 mph limit.

The two other options, detailed by highway officials at the hearing Thursday night, are leaving that stretch of highway the way it is and adding general purpose lanes, which calls for widening the road to six lanes in both directions from New Forge Road to Route 24 and to five lanes from Route 24 to Route 543.

The commute time under the general purpose lane option would be trimmed to about 34 minutes as motorists moved along at a projected average speed of 43 mph.

The drive times and the speed estimates of each option is based on projections of 40 percent more vehicles on the highway in 2030, Williams said.

The hearing at William Paca Elementary in Abingdon was held to give citizens the opportunity to express their thoughts on the proposals. The session followed a similar summertime meeting that was held to display the options for residents to view.

Only a handful of the more than 100 people in attendance last week expressed their thoughts, and there was no clear winner among the options.

Gloria Moon of Joppa doubted that widening the road would ease congestion.

"Maybe that was true in the Eisenhower administration, but it is not true today," she said, encouraging state officials to provide more train service to move people.

One aspect of the plans that drew considerable objection was closing the park-and-ride lot at the intersection of I-95 and Route 152 and moving it to another spot off Jaycee Road on the other side of the interstate. Transportation officials say the current lot, which accommodates 316 cars, must be moved to allow for added lanes to the highway.

Ronnie Swords said the 325-car lot would be almost in his front yard and would cause a traffic jam as cars tried to exit onto Route 152.

"That would be stupid," said Swords, who lives on Jaycee Road.

County Councilman Dion F. Guthrie, a Democrat who represents the Edgewood area, said he has heard from many constituents who object to the proposed relocation of the lot. He questioned state officials' assertion that the existing lot can't adequately accommodate Maryland Transit Administration buses.

"I have gotten on a bus there at least 20 times to go to Ravens football games or other trips," he said.

Vincent Rabenau of Joppa didn't like the thought of paying a toll to cut his travel time. He encouraged state officials to divide the car and truck traffic, as is done on the New Jersey Turnpike, to increase traffic flow.

Williams said the input from the meeting and other written comments would be factored into the Transportation Authority decision, which is scheduled to be announced in the fall of next year. She said construction on the interstate improvements in Harford County would not likely start until 2012.

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