History will repeat itself tonight in the Howard County Council auditorium.
At 6:30 p.m., county elected officials will meet to try to agree on where to build state Route 100 through southern Ellicott City, an exercise identical to the one in which they participated in May 1987.
Then, local officials chose a route along the Deep Run stream east of Route 104, ostensibly to avoid the existing homes of Hunt Country Estates and the yet-to-be-built condominiums of the Village of Montgomery Run.
What they didn't avoid was Deep Run and its wetlands, something federal regulators have have since insisted must be done.
Tonight, the County Council, the local state legislative delegation and the county executive will attempt to agree on one of two new choices that do not threaten as many acres of wetlands.
But what one option would do is raze two homes and severely affect six other homes in Hunt Country Estates north of Deep Run. The other, south of the stream, would bring the highway 26 feet closer to one Montgomery Run building than the alignment in place when residents bought their units.
Although State Highway Administrator Hal Kassoff said the highway planning process works more effectively when local officials reach a consensus, the ultimate design of the road will be worked out between state highway planners and federal regulators from the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers.
"We had made a decision once before, and it was overridden," said County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, a Democrat who represents both communities. "Hopefully, we will be able to make a sound decision and put this issue behind us. If we don't reach a decision, then we'll let the State Highway Administration and the federal officials decide, and move ahead with this project."
Federal regulators have already expressed a preference for the route south of the Deep Run, called the "Lazy S," which was recently modified by highway planners to take it farther from Montgomery Run.
State highway officials pointed out during a June 28 presentation before the County Council that the northern alignment would require about $12 million in additional bridging than the modified Lazy S to preserve the same amount of wetlands.
"If the modifications were made in the original [Lazy S] alignment, I think they can make some others," Mr. Gray said.
County Executive Charles I. Ecker is expected to present more information showing that the Lazy S would deprive the county of revenue from commercial development. The Lazy S would cut through a farm owned by R. Lee Curtis and the University of Maryland Horse Research Center along Route 108. The two properties are likely to be zoned mixed-use, which county officials expect to bolster the commercial tax base.
"I'm hoping they don't delay it any longer. At this point, I think they have enough information to make a decision," said Valerie McGuire, the Hunt Country Estates day care provider who first suggested the Lazy S to state highway officials.
Kim Abramson, who is representing Montgomery Run in the dispute, said her community still favors the northern alignment. "They still are obligated to protect 100 percent of Montgomery Run, period. And we won't settle for less," she said.