Construction of an interchange on Route 175 that will provide easier access to Blandair Park could begin as early as this fall.
The design for the interchange, which is proposed as part of Howard County's master plan for the park, has been in the works since 2003, according to Mark Kovach, the project's manager from the county's Department of Public Works.
"It's been a long road," said Kovach. "Basically, it boils down to designing an entrance to the park that lessens the impact on the local roads and the community."
The $9 million first phase of the interchange, which will lie between Thunder Hill Road and Tamar Drive, will provide access from Route 175 to the southern portion of the developing park.
The initial construction phase calls for entrance and exit ramps off east bound Route 175 east bound. According to Kovach, the project is currently awaiting the approval of permits from the State Highway Administration.
Kovach said the permits are "very close" to being approved, after which the county will begin the competitive bidding process, which lasts approximately two to three months. After a bid process is completed, the project is handed over to the contractor, who then decides when to begin construction, Kovach said.
The entire interchange, which includes a bridge and access to both sides of the park from both directions on Route 175, is part of a master plan approved by the Howard County Parks and Recreation Board in 2008. When the park is completed, the 300-acre parcel that splits Route 175, will have softball and baseball fields, a skate park, open space, a multi-purpose building and a nature center.
"Most of the people will come right off of Route 175 to get to Blandair," said Alex Hekimian, Columbia Association board representative from Oakland Mills. "As more and more activities occur in Blandair, you will see more people form all directions coming to the park. It's good that there are going to be multiple ways of getting there."
Hekimian, a retired civil engineer for the Montgomery County planning department, said the first phase of development is "a good start."
Once drivers exit Route 175, they will come to a roundabout, which will lead them through the park on a new iteration of Oakland Mills Road. Drivers exiting the park on to Route 175 east bound will also drive through the roundabout before heading on to the entrance ramp.
A second roundabout also is planned for the opposite entrance to the southern section of the park at the intersection of Oakland Mills Road and Old Montgomery Road.
"We want to control the speed a little bit coming off and going onto Route 175," Kovach said. "We felt roundabouts would be best for people coming into and exiting the park."
The southern interchange will replace one of the park's entry points on Sohap Lane, a residential street connected to Thunder Hill Road. In the final iteration of the plan, Sohap Lane, which currently provides access to the park by connecting to Oakland Mills Road, will terminate into a parking lot for the park.
The plan also calls for an existing portion of Oakland Mills Road, which runs through the park, to be replaced by a new road. On the east side of the new road will be the skate park, a multi-purpose building and a parking lot. To the west of the curved road, which will have a speed limit of 25 miles per hour, will be baseball fields.
The second phase of construction includes building a two-way bridge over Route 175 that will provide access to the southern park to west bound drivers and access to the northern park from east bound drivers. The bridge will also have a bike path and pedestrian path.
Funding for the second phase has not yet been approved, but will be requested in the fiscal year 2016 budget, according to Kovach.
Detour hits roadblock
While the overall goal of the traffic project is to ease residents' concerns, the cost of long-term peace of mind could be short-term growing pains, as the proposed detour routes have some local residents concerned.
"There are people who have strong feelings toward it," said Kovach of the detour plan, which he said the county is in the process of revising.
"They didn't like the detour plan we proposed, so that's the main thing we are looking at. We are refining our current detour plan to lessen the impact on the residents."
The original detour plan, which is broken into two phases, called for the closure of the portion of Oakland Mills between Sohap Lane and Old Montgomery Road for a total of 21 months, the estimated construction time for the project.
During that time, drivers traveling between where Route 175 intersects with Tamar Drive and Thunder Hill Road would've had to drive around Oakland Mills High School and Middle School to get to the other side.
Kovach said the county is using comments taken from an April open house, held at Oakland Mills High School, to reshape the detour routes.
Among the concerned residents who attended the open house was Old Montgomery Road resident Kevin Inghram.
"My main concern is going to be the road closures that were proposed," said Inghram, 29. "My concern was the increased traffic. Old Montgomery Road can't handle more traffic than it has right now. ... You are increasing the chance of something bad happening with too many cars and too many kids."
Inghram said he was happy to hear the county was reconsidering the detour route.
"It's good to know they are being flexible and trying to work with the community," he said.