The State Highway Administration plans a December holiday gift to western Howard County residents who endure rush-hour traffic along Guilford Road, old Route 32:
Weather permitting, 2.4 miles of four-lane, divided highway should open Dec. 18 from Pindell School Road-Cedar Lane to Route 108 as a new section of Route 32.
The planned opening -- three months ahead of schedule -- will "ease a lot of problems from Clarksville east," said County Executive Charles I. Ecker. "It will help the Hall Shop Road intersection and [residents of] Clarksville Ridge."
It's just part of the $300 million in state road projects being planned, built or studied in Howard. Most of the money will go toward the Route 32 addition and the two-phase widening and extension of Route 100 as a six-lane highway from U.S. 29 to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
The Route 32 section opening in December will cost $55.3 million, and the Route 100 project, scheduled for completion in 1999, will cost $221 million.
However, the prospect for the county's long list of proposed projects for which it seeks state funding are uncertain.
At an Oct. 19 meeting, state highway planners warned county elected officials that the state is not planning any new highway projects in Howard. County officials con-tinue to press the issue.
The opening of the new Route 32 section will help ease the pressure for Clarksville Ridge residents and travelers on Hall Shop Road. During rush hour, the Hall Shop-Guilford Road intersection has one of the worst traffic jams in western Howard County.
The new section of Route 32 also is expected to bring relief to Columbia residents who use Cedar Lane to get to Route 32 or U.S. 29. Because of the freeway construction, rush-hour traffic on Cedar Lane has backed up in the morning from Route 32 to the Hickory Ridge Village Center.
But the Route 32 opening may be a mixed blessing, Mr. Ecker warned.
"It will ease a lot of problems -- but it could make things a lot worse [along Route 32] from Clarksville to I-70," he said.
That stretch -- already filled at rush hour with Carroll County commuters -- may become even more congested once drivers start using the new road.
Mr. Ecker wants the state to ease that problem by widening Route 32 to four lanes from Clarksville to Interstate 70. The State Highway Administration has agreed only to study the issue.
Mr. Ecker says this is one of two essential road projects.
The other -- which has been among the county's highest priorities for years -- is a four-lane divided highway that would replace Route 216 along a 2.6-mile stretch from U.S. 29 to Interstate 95.
The reason for this project, Mr. Ecker says, is that while the county is well supplied with north-south roads, it has few major east-west routes and none in the southern part of the county.
But for years, the state has rejected that priority, citing "significant wetlands problems."
The county has not given up. The southern linking of U.S. 29 and I-95 by Route 216 has to be "upgraded," Mr. Ecker said.
"I certainly think something could be worked out," he said. "I am aware that there are significant wetlands problems, but we need to study what's possible and move forward."
The state is moving forward on a tangential issue.
It will hold what is billed as "a public information meeting" Dec. 5 on potential designs for a new interchange at Route 216 and U.S. 29. County officials want that design to include a link to a rebuilt Route 216.
Meanwhile, two other state projects -- both park-and-ride lots -- are expected to open in Howard the week of Dec. 25.
Nearly finished are two park-and-ride lots -- one at Long Gate Parkway and Route 100 with 300 spaces and a second at Route 32 and Broken Land Parkway with 325 spaces.
Once they open, "hopefully, more people will be car-pooling and we will have less traffic" going to Baltimore and Washington, D.C., Mr. Ecker said.