Ecker spurs roads agency to complete Route 216 Project stalled by wetlands regulations


Now that the State Highway Administration has decided where to build Route 100 through southern Ellicott City, county officials want to see another major highway project rescued from the bog of federal wetlands regulations.

"This is a major east-west link in the state transportation grid as I see it," County Executive Charles I. Ecker said last night of plans to relocate Route 216 between Interstate 95 and U.S. 29 in North Laurel.

Mr. Ecker and other elected officials asked state transportation officials to get the Route 216 project moving during the annual meeting last night on transportation priorities in the county.

The project has been shelved because the proposed highway would violate federal wetlands regulations by displacing about a half-mile of the Hammond Branch of the Little Patuxent River.

Route 100 had a similar problem with the Deep Run stream in southern Ellicott City, forcing state highway planners into a two-year struggle with residents who opposed moving the roadway closer to their homes.

To solve the problem, the highway was constructed less than 30 feet closer to one condominium, but State Highway Administrator Hal Kassoff said resolving the Route 216 dilemma will not be so easy.

To satisfy federal regulators, he said, Route 216 will have to move even closer to neighboring developments, "possibly even taking homes."

"The project is basically on the shelf," Mr. Kassoff said, with only about $25,000 budgeted to update environmental studies.

Asked if the wetlands problem would be impossible to resolve, the SHA's chief planner, Neil Pedersen, expressed some optimism.

"I'm sure that there are people that would have said when we got into the process with Route 100 that it was impossible," he said.

Overall, the county is getting such a healthy share of highway projects that state Del. Robert Kittleman, R-14B, held back his usual criticism of the way the state spends money from the transportation trust fund.

Mr. Kittleman maintains that the county, which was planned with the automobile in mind, makes little use of public transit and has urged the state to spend more of its money on highway improvements.

In addition to Route 100, which will link U.S. 29 and Route 104 by next summer, the SHA's other major new highway project is Route 32, which will be relocated as a straight, four-lane highway between Cedar Lane and Route 108. Bids for the $45 million project have been opened, and work is expected to begin early next year.

West of Route 108, engineers will begin work during fiscal 1995 on a $250,000 study to widen Route 32 to four lanes to Interstate 70.

Some at the meeting, such as County Councilman Paul Farragut, D-4th, urged state officials to encourage more people to use public transit by improving it.

Mr. Farragut said the council would like to see mid-day trains added to Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) service so commuters won't be "marooned" in Baltimore or Washington.

"People think, 'If I ever get sick, or my child gets sick, I can't get home in the middle of the day.' I think it's a detriment that we don't have this now," Mr. Farragut said.

He said he was pleased to hear Mass Transit Administrator John A. Agro Jr. say that MARC officials are now negotiating for the extra service with CSXT, which owns and operates the Camden Line. The line has stops in Elkridge, Jessup and Savage in Howard.

Mr. Agro said mid-day trips are expected to begin in December.

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