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Work resumes on widening Ritchie Highway in Severna Park


Construction crews have returned to the two-mile stretch of Ritchie Highway that runs through Severna Park, set to finish by November a road widening project started nearly a year ago.

This week, workers have been closing one lane and sometimes both northbound or southbound lanes of the highway between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. to remove old signal poles and install new ones. Next week, they will be moving and replacing signal poles, and in the following weeks, they will begin resurfacing the road.

"We're really getting into the heart of construction season," said Chuck Brown, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration which developed the project.

A few workers laid 18-inch drainage pipes underground during the winter, but much of the work, which is being done after 10 p.m., could not begin until late-night temperatures rose.

"Road work is not only weather-sensitive, it's temperature-sensitive," Mr. Brown said. "You can't do it if there's any frost or freezing. Temperature is critical."

The $2.5 million project, which began in June, will provide upgraded traffic signals, landscaping in the median, and new curbs and gutters between Whites and Cypress Creek roads.

Mr. Brown said the work was necessary to accommodate the increased traffic on the road.

The SHA figures that the average four-lane divided highway can handle a maximum 1,200 cars per lane per hour. A recent survey found that stretch of Ritchie Highway was carrying 1,300 cars per lane at peak hours, averaging 53,650 cars a day.

The Greater Severna Park Council has supported the construction because the new traffic signals will give more time to drivers entering the highway from intersecting streets.

Some residents who travel the highway and local business owners say they are glad the improvements are being made but that construction can't end too soon.

"It's a pain," said Renee Cox, kitchen manager for the Gingerbread Man restaurant in the Park Plaza Shopping Center. "It kind of bottles up in the mornings. I notice a lot of accidents since they've started doing this."

She said the end of the construction will "make it easier to get in and out," of the shopping center.

Mary Orndorff, assistant manager of the Friendly's restaurant farther north, said construction has both helped and harmed her business.

"Sometimes people zig zag through here to avoid traffic, and sometimes it helps" business, she said.

"If it's out front and they're blocking the right lane, then it does affect my business because it's a little harder to get in here," she said.

But the construction hasn't caused any extreme delays, said Pam Wilson, who commutes from Baltimore to an Arnold office.

"I'm expecting to be dead stop any moment, but the traffic flows," she said. "It's really not that bad."

Kathleen Benson, who lives and works in Arnold and uses Ritchie Highway frequently, said she is looking forward to seeing the finished product.

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