The driving's getting easier in Howard County, but state transportation officials said last night that the end of the road may be in sight when it comes to major state-financed highway projects.
In the last couple of years, motorists have seen traffic lights disappear from most of U.S. 29, the widening of Route 32 in east Columbia and, last month, the long-awaited opening of the western leg of Route 100.
"Howard County has done well," Hal Kassoff, the state highway administrator, told the county's elected and administrative officials last night. "I get kidded all the time about the size of the program because I'm a resident of Howard County."
Mr. Kassoff and other transportation officials spoke at the state Department of Transportation's annual meeting to outline highway and transit plans for the county.
"You don't see too many places in the United States where highways of this magnitude are being built on new locations," he added, because they are stopped by the communities they would traverse.
The last major projects under construction, a relocation of Route from U.S. 29 to Route 108 in Clarksville and the building of a short stretch of Route 100 that will connect Interstate 95 with the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, are both expected to be completed before the end of next year.
After that, a drop in federal and state transportation money will sharply curtail highway construction in the county.
The only project being designed is the last leg of Route 100, from Route 104 to I-95. Until recently, the leg was expected to open at the end of the decade. Mr. Kassoff said highway officials are attempting to speed up its development, delayed by community opposition and federal wetlands regulations. One possibility is that the highway could be opened from I-95 to its interchange with Snowden River Parkway extended.
Projects that the state will not fund, the county will.
Motorists tired of sitting on Route 175 at the Snowden River Parkway light should be getting some relief in the future. A $6 million to $7 million overpass interchange to eliminate the light will be built by the SHA with money from the county's excise tax on new development. The county has already budgeted $480,000 for the interchange's design, and plans for the project will be unveiled at a public meeting next month.
Del. Robert H. Kittleman, a Republican who represents Ellicott City and west county, expressed concern that the state was diverting too much money to transit projects when both funding and ridership was declining. "In the future, you'll have all your money spent on mass transit, and nobody will be riding it," Mr. Kittleman said.
But Mass Transit Administrator John A. Agro Jr. said that while ridership overall on the state's buses, streetcars and trains has declined 3 percent to 4 percent annually in recent years, it remained steady in 1993.
State officials have been under pressure to meet new federal air quality standards by improving mass transit and encouraging or even forcing employers to get employees to cut back on automobile use.
Work is about to begin on an $8.8 million Maryland Rail Commuter station on the Howard County side of Dorsey, and other projects have added or will add parking to other rail stations and park-and-ride lots.
Mr. Kittleman said that while he sees the benefit of mass transit, Howard County is too spread out to make effective use of it.