Howard County's new U.S. 1 meets the old near the Route 175 intersection, where the Jessup Plaza features a deli that offers breakfast all day, along with money orders, a shiatsu massage parlor and Jimmy G's Check Cashing.

Just north of that, though, builders are raising Howard Square, a new project with townhouses, apartments and stores.

Howard Square is part of the U.S. 1 envisioned by county planners, who for years have been charting a future for the old highway — maintaining its role as a job center while improving the appearance to make it inviting to development different from the hodgepodge of strip malls and fast-food restaurants so prevalent along the route.

As part of this effort, the county is preparing to begin a road project that includes widening a short stretch of U.S. 1 north of Route 175, adding elements of the new look envisioned for the entire 11-mile length in Howard County with a wide median, sidewalks and bicycle lanes.

The work on a 2,500-foot stretch is expected to begin next year and be completed by summer 2015.

"The intent is that we will eventually do the entire corridor," said Steve Lafferty, who is in charge of special projects for the county's Department of Planning and Zoning. The county is starting near Route 175 because "we decided to pick an area where there's a lot of activity."

Indeed, Lafferty said there's more redevelopment going on within less than a mile of the Route 175 intersection than anywhere else along Howard County's portion of U.S. 1.

Between Howard Square and, just north of it, the Overlook at Blue Stream, the two mixed-use projects now under construction will ultimately add about 2,400 new homes, plus more than a million square feet of retail space.

"It's an area where we can make a difference; create a gateway feel," Lafferty said.

Reshaping the future

Howard's master plan for growth adopted last year emphasized the continuing effort to redevelop the U.S. 1 corridor — an area of 21 square miles.

Although the area is home to roughly one of every three jobs in Howard, much of it still looks like a relic of an American road culture of small motels and fast-food spots.

PlanHoward 2030 outlined 11 policies meant to draw new business and residents to the thoroughfare, and improve its appearance. Without mentioning specific developments, the plan says stores are to be directed to new retail spots and "mixed-use" projects such as Howard Square and the Overlook, and away from older strip centers such as Jessup Plaza.

At the same time, car-repair places, outdoor storage and truck operations are to be encouraged to move to new locations behind the U.S. 1 road front.

Some of these recommendations are now being proposed under the countywide comprehensive rezoning, to be completed this year.

PlanHoward also calls for more sidewalks and bicycle lanes, picking up recommendations made in the county's "Route 1 Manual," a 20-year plan to improve the road that was published in 2009.

The new U.S. 1/Route 175 project follows those guidelines, starting the work of making the road more friendly for walkers and cyclists, and adding a 20-foot median that will be planted with trees.

Brandon N. Love, the project manager with the Department of Public Works, said a third lane will be added to 2,500 feet of U.S. 1, and work will be done on two intersections north of 175.

In addition, the traffic signal at U.S. 1 and Montevideo Road will be taken down and moved a bit south to a new intersection where Port Capital Drive now meets U.S. 1.

Montevideo Road — on the east side of U.S. 1 — will be shifted south, meeting Port Capital, a road into Howard Square on the west side of U.S. 1. The old section of Montevideo will remain and will probably be renamed Old Montevideo Road, Love said.

He said the widening and the intersection work together are expected to cost $18 million, all paid by the county, not including the price of land. It's not yet clear how much land will be needed, so the cost is not yet clear.

Most of the land will be on the east side of U.S. 1, said Lafferty, including land owned by the state, which maintains the state police Waterloo barracks and a General Services Administration office along that stretch.

He said land will be set aside at the new Montevideo intersection on the east side for a new fire station to be built there eventually.

The road project is not expected to begin until the summer of 2014 and last about a year.

Love said there are no plans for detours or lane closures on U.S. 1 or Montevideo Road during construction. He said lanes may be narrowed temporarily from 12 feet to 11 feet, but otherwise the road is expected to remain open.

While that work is going on, the state plans to extend the right-turn lane from the southbound side of U.S. 1 onto Route 175 west, said Charlie Gischlar, spokesman for the State Highway Administration. He said it's not clear yet how long that extension will be or what it will cost, but it's clear that it's needed, as traffic tends to back up from that turning lane into the main road in peak travel times.

The extension, he said "will help everything."

arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com

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