As work continues on upgrading U.S. 29 in Howard County to a freeway, we applaud the vision and commitment shown by state and local officials toward this project.
Begun in the early 1980s, the ongoing transformation of Route 29 has gone a long way toward alleviating the excruciating traffic problems that developed as Howard County became one of the fastest-growing jurisdictions in the state. Since Route 29 is a major corridor linking the county with Washington, D.C., it was inevitable that changes would have to be made to accommodate outward migration.
The latest phase of this project has been the Broken Land Parkway interchange, which opened last week. This milestone not only furthers the Route 29 effort, it provides Columbia with a new and more impressive gateway to the city.
Still, upgrading Route 29 in Howard County has not made it an entirely pleasant road to travel. While Howard has moved in one direction by removing traffic signals at major intersections and installing interchanges, Montgomery County has moved in another. For its portion, Montgomery left the traffic signals in but expanded the roadway to include an express lane for commuter buses. Montgomery's goals are clear: To discourage use of Route 29 in favor of Interstate 95.
That is the wrong approach. While its emphasis on commuter buses is good, Montgomery's stubborn refusal to adopt Howard County's freeway strategy leaves Route 29 with what amounts to a split personality. One portion zips along; the other is stop and go.
The future holds no more promise for resolving this situation. Howard County officials are looking at long-term plans that would install a light-rail line along Route 29. Montgomery County officials, however, are balking at the idea because it would require tunneling in the tightly compact section of the roadway in downtown Silver Spring.
Necessary pressure may be brought to bear as provisions in the Clean Air Act require local jurisdictions to look increasingly at mass-transit and ride-sharing options in lieu of future road expansions. Still, as long as Howard and Montgomery officials aren't of one mind, developing a cohesive strategy could prove as difficult -- and time-consuming -- as traveling along Route 29.