Long-planned highway segment opens


After more than three decades of planning, debates, deaths and revivals, Howard County's $25 million western leg of Route 100 opened yesterday morning.

The two-mile segment of 2-lane highway connecting U.S. 29 to Route 104 will take pressure off of Routes 103, 104 and 108, but it isn't likely to provide a high-speed connection to Interstate 95 for another five years.

"It was planned when I got here," said county Public Works Director James M. Irvin, a 19-year veteran of the department. "It's been a long time coming. It's a great day for the county."

The segment is part of a larger project that will extend Route 100 from U.S. 29 in Ellicott City to Pasadena in Anne Arundel County.

Although the new, 2-mile segment will be only a minor boon to commuters -- allowing them to bypass a congested section of Route 108 -- the highway is expected to help the developers who bought into the project a decade ago, in exchange for state land or better access to their properties.

Developer Patrick McCuan built one of the 2 miles opened yesterday. He completed most of the $3 million section several years ago before a shortage in transportation funding halted the state's planning of its segment, which includes overpasses and an interchange.

That delay denied Mr. McCuan's adjoining office-research property the highway access he had been promised during a time of suffering commercial real estate markets. Much of the property has since been rezoned for apartments and again for townhouses.

"There was sort of a love-hate relationship between the state and Pat McCuan," an apologetic State Highway Administrator Hal Kassoff said at yesterday's ribbon-cutting ceremony. Mr. Kassoff said he didn't know what direction that relationship had taken recently.

Mr. McCuan did not attend yesterday's event and refused to comment on the project when reached at his home.

Mr. Kassoff urged the crowd of state and county officials and contractors to applaud Mr. McCuan's participation, saying, "There's no money in a round of applause, but hopefully he'll feel better."

"I'm extremely happy that we can do this," said County Councilman Darrel Drown, a Republican who represents Ellicott City. He added later, "I'm also happy that economic development will not be shut down in the county because cars can't get through it."

The Ellicott City-to-Pasadena highway, which has been planned to follow the Deep Run stream valley since the early 1960s, has been seen as a boon to commuters and as a threat to communities in the way.

In the 1970s, the highway was fought by the community of Columbia Hills, which helped launch the political career of community activist and Route 100 opponent Elizabeth Bobo. Later as county executive in the late 1980s, Ms. Bobo became convinced that the highway was necessary.

Her predecessor, Hugh Nichols, had already persuaded County Council members to put the highway back in the county's General Plan in 1985.

What followed helped delay the Ellicott City-Pasadena route's final segment, from Route 104 to I-95.

The highway was to have bisected land belonging to the developer Macks & Macks, which later built condominiums on the property. Residents of Hunt Country Estates, which was not on county government maps at the time, protested to get the highway shifted back out of their neighborhood.

A 1987 compromise was voided in 1991 by federal and state environmental regulators, who said the highway would displace sensitive wetlands of Deep Run.

Again threatened, Hunt Country Estates residents renewed their fight and in July 1993 won elected officials' approval of a curving alignment designed by a child care provider who lived in the neighborhood.

Mr. Irvin said bids for that final segment are expected to be advertised in two years. That could allow the highway's completion in 1999, a year earlier than previous estimates.

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