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Meeting to discuss Route 29-Rivers Edge intersection updates in Howard County postponed

Updates to the troublesome Columbia intersection of Route 29 and Rivers Edge Road were set to be discussed at a meeting Feb. 13, but the Maryland State Highway Administration announced Wednesday that the meeting has been postponed.

According to an announcement made on the Howard County Government Facebook page, the delay would provide SHA the opportunity to continue working with the community to develop the plan and gather feedback.

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“The Feb. 13 meeting has been postponed to give us additional time to continue working with the community. At this time, there will be no changes to the current traffic configuration,” Shanteé Felix, SHA assistant media relations manager, said Thursday.

“The meeting will be rescheduled and we will send notification at a later date. No final decisions have been made on any potential changes.”

The public information meeting was scheduled after SHA announced, via written letters to residents of the Rivers Edge community in December, that it would remove the light at the intersection of Route 29 and Rivers Edge Road. The announcement said the updates would take no longer than two months and would be completed in April.

The Rivers Edge Community, where more than 1,000 Howard County residents reside, hosted a neighborhood meeting Jan. 23 to discuss opposition to SHA’s announcement. At least 200 residents attended the community meeting to discuss the history of the intersection and ways to best strategically oppose the plan.

Stephanie Cates-Harman, a Rivers Edge resident since 1989, has served as the community’s spokeswoman since the last time a plan to update the intersection was brought up in 2010.

At the time of the Jan. 23 community meeting, Cates-Harman said she was bitter about SHA’s decision after she spent years advocating on behalf of the community for a safe alternative. In 2012, SHA said the safe alternative would be an overpass.

“They’re looking for the cheap quick alternatives,” Cates-Harman said.

On Tuesday, Cates-Harman and David Albert, another neighborhood advocate, met with Terri Soos, District 7 engineer at SHA, to discuss the plan in detail and potential alternatives.

“We had a long discussion [with Soos]. Apparently [postponing Thursday’s meeting] is the outcome of the discussion,” Albert said Wednesday. “All we want is to provide a solution that provides safety on Route 29.”

While there are still lights on Route 29 in Montgomery County, the Rivers Edge light is the last remaining signal on Route 29 in Howard County.

Residents at the Jan. 23 meeting were concerned that with removal of the light, drivers would have no reason to stop and subsequently would increase their speed. They also repeatedly mentioned the concern of turning right from their neighborhood onto traffic that could be moving at high speeds.

After SHA announced its plan, Cates-Harman and other residents began discussions with local officials, including Del. Jen Terrasa, Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, state Sen. Guy Guzzone and County Council Chairwoman Deb Jung.

“We had been in pretty continuous contact with elected officials,” Cates-Harman said.

At the Jan. 23 meeting, representatives from local officials and Jung suggested residents send letters and emails to Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Gregory Slater, Gov. Larry Hogan and County Executive Calvin Ball to underscore the gravity of the issue.

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“I am pleased that the Maryland Department of Transportation has postponed this meeting in order to obtain more public input,” Jung said after hearing Wednesday’s announcement. “The members of the Rivers Edge community are rightly concerned about the potential of losing a stoplight that allows them to leave their community safely.”

Earlier Wednesday, Ball sent a letter to Slater stating, in part, “This proposal neglected to consider the provision of a short-term access solution at the intersection, and the metrics and specifics to support SHA’s proposal have not been made available to my staff or the public.

“At a minimum, I believe this recent proposal lacks the necessary data and information to be considered as the optimal safety solution at this intersection.”

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