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No more Route 29 access? No problem

Road TransportationHurricane Irene (2011)Tropical Storm Lee (2011)

The changes will lengthen their commutes, bring construction to their wooded street and impact the overall character of their historic, centuries-old properties.

But the residents of Old Columbia Road say they are all for the State Highway Administration's plan to cut off their street's direct access to Route 29 in Columbia and create a new connection to Twin Knolls Road.

It will be a concession of convenience in return for increased safety, they said at a recent SHA public meeting, and free them from having to maneuver out of high-speed traffic and onto a rural road every time they want to go home.

"It's got to be done," said Frank Collins, who considers himself "pre-Columbia" and has lived on the street with his wife, Mary, since the late 1960s. "It's getting worse. We're pretty much prisoners from 3:30 to 6:00 (p.m.)"

"We have friends who won't come and visit us anymore," said Robert Dorfman, one of Collins' neighbors, who has lived on the street with his wife, Marilyn, for 20 years.

Their street is one of two in Columbia — the other is Gales Lane — that the SHA has announced will lose direct access to Route 29 as part of its plan to expand the highway and transform it into a controlled-access freeway.

The plan connects Old Columbia Road with Twin Knolls Road by extending it north along Route 29, and connects the two separate sections of Gales Lane just north of Rosinante Run.

It also adds a third lane to the two-lane northbound stretch of Route 29 to which both streets connect. The highway's only two-lane stretch creates a traffic bottleneck for the almost 80,000 vehicles that travel it daily, and that number is expected to jump to 95,000 vehicles per day by 2030, said Charlie Gischlar, the SHA spokesman.

The plan, originally approved in 1987, recently entered a design phase following the allocation of about $5.5 million in funding, including more than $2 million from Howard County, Gischlar said. Funding for construction has not yet been allocated, and there is no specific timeline for the project's completion.

Still, residents from both streets said they are hopeful the project will come to fruition sooner rather than later.

At two separate SHA meetings on the project at Hammond High School on Sept. 22 and 26 — attended by 26 and 21 residents respectively — the residents expressed general approval of the project as they asked SHA staff questions about project details.

Flooding worries

Of particular interest to many residents, including Christina Birdwalker, of nearby River Meadows Drive, was how SHA will build adequate noise barriers without affecting, or backing up, the area's 100-year flood plain.

Several residents said they fear flooding will worsen in the area because of the walls. Birdwalker said the highway noise at her home is a "big issue," one that hasn't been fully addressed by SHA already.

"It's a bit frustrating, because the main concerns I have seem to always be the things they're still figuring out," she said. "There never seems to be a decision."

Steve Gnadt, who has lived on Old Columbia Road for 15 years with his wife, Myra, said he also has concerns about flooding but is generally in favor of the project.

Gnadt called getting in and out of his street an "adventure," especially during rush hour.

There was also the night in 2007 when Gnadt's teenage daughter Meghan was with friends, crossing from Old Columbia Road to Route 29 southbound, and their vehicle was hit by another car traveling northbound on the highway. The collision sent one teen to Shock Trauma, and left their daughter with amnesia, Gnadt said.

He hopes the changes will make things safer for everyone.

Marsha French, who has lived on Gales Lane since 1999, was the only resident of the two streets who spoke against the project at the meetings, calling it "premature" and misguided.

"The county is making this big push because it wants to relieve the bottleneck," she said, but it hasn't considered just how flooded the area gets with heavy rains.

"It looked like the Louisiana bayou," French said of the area after Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee recently swept through.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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