Commuters may be traveling with more ease and less frustration along U.S. 29 by fall, but for now they must contend with construction to widen three miles of the north-south thoroughfare, transportation officials say.
The $3 million project, financed by Howard County, will add two lanes, one in each direction, to U.S. 29 between Routes 175 and 100, making it a six-lane highway.
"It's necessary to widen the road to give commuters better access as the amount of traffic along the highway continues to rise," said Charles Brown, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration.
By 8 a.m. most days, the southbound lanes are backed up for a mile or two. In the afternoons, the northbound lanes are jammed with traffic.
"In the mornings, there's traffic all along Route 29 from Route 175 to Route 40. Some mornings it's just stop and go all the way," said Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who travels along the highway every day.
Mr. Ecker said his route takes him "the other way from the traffic jams" as he commutes from his home in Columbia to his office in Ellicott City.
He said his office gets five to 10 calls a month from drivers complaining about congestion along U.S. 29 at the Route 175 exit.
"People thought that when the construction was done on Route 100, this would ease traffic, but unfortunately the backup is still there," the county executive said.
The county had hoped to add the lanes during the Route 100 construction a year ago, but a lack of state money prevented that, said James M. Irvine, director of public works for Howard County.
"There was just no state money at the time, and that's why the county stepped in to pay, because the congestion problems were so bad," he said.
Mr. Ecker said widening the highway is "going to help the pollution problem, because people won't be sitting in traffic as long and there'll be less frustration.
"And it's probably going to ease the number of complaints we get."
Officials said they expect the construction to be completed by November if the weather permits.
A row of 5-foot-tall bushes about a mile long had to be removed from the highway's median because they would have hung over into the new lane, Mr. Brown said.
Plans are being made to plant smaller bushes and foliage along the finished highway.
Transportation officials said they hope to extend the additional lanes along the other sections of U.S. 29 within the county but that there is no money for that now.