It's hard to believe today, but when Ritchie Highway was constructed some 60 years ago, only one blinking "control light" slowed a motorist traveling from Glen Burnie to the Severn River.
One of the first stretches of that Depression-era dual-lane highway was constructed in Brooklyn Park, which was also the location of some of the area's earliest strip shopping centers. zTC Even today, Brooklyn Park's stretch of Ritchie retains a 1950s time-capsule atmosphere.
Perhaps not much longer, though.
The north wing of the fortysomething Ritchie Highway Shopping Center got a much-needed make-over a year ago, giving it an inviting, modern appearance.
Many people may have bypassed it, though, because the highway in front of it has long been a veritable obstacle course. Things should return to normal soon with the completion of a $1.4 million project to make four Ritchie Highway intersections in Brooklyn Park safer.
State Highway Administration statistics reveal that those intersections, because of poor road design and heavy use, have had above-average rates of fender-benders, side-swipes and other accidents.
As a result of the modifications, motorists will finally have exclusive left-turn lanes, which ought to alleviate some of the worst problems between 11th and 16th avenues. Several beautification measures are also being undertaken, including the planting of trees along a widened median strip. Another congested stretch of Ritchie Highway through Severna Park is also being upgraded.
"I think it's going to be a major improvement," said state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, of the Brooklyn Park work.
Merchants in northernmost Anne Arundel County sure hope so. They have been grumbling about the construction and its effects on sales. Ritchie Highway's new look should improve their ability to compete in a busy marketplace -- if they know how to take advantage of the opportunity.
Much depends on the stores, their pricing and merchandizing. Brooklyn Park did not become a haunt of struggling businesses because of the road but because area retailing there -- and far beyond -- endured fundamental changes.
The only way local businesses can survive competition from the warehouse stores and so-called category killers a short drive away is to build their own niches and enable people to know where to find them.