Ecker likely to delay overpass Executive notes traffic projections of Route 175 volume; Move upsets area leaders; Better intersection with parkway was promised, they say


Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker likely will delay construction of a much-sought overpass at the clogged intersection of Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway -- a decision that is upsetting the area's residents.

Ecker's move -- the latest in a community squabble about how to improve the east Columbia intersection -- could delay construction of an overpass for more than 10 years.

The county executive noted traffic projections that show some drivers will switch from Route 175 to Route 100 once that fully opens in 2000.

County traffic studies indicate that Route 100 will pull some cars off Route 175, but the studies also show that continued development in east Columbia will attract just as many new cars to Route 175.

Ecker said this week he will review the studies before making his final decision. But in an interview Monday, he said he probably will postpone construction of an overpass that has been sought by nearby residents at Snowden River Parkway.

He also said he probably would fund only minor, lane-widening improvements at Route 175 intersections at Snowden River Parkway and Dobbin Road.

Ecker had put the overpass project on the county's capital projects budget for the current and last fiscal years. Asked Monday how long until the overpass would be built, he said as late as 2010.

Informed of Ecker's new plans, east Columbia community leaders reacted with anger. They have been pushing for the overpass that they said was promised by county officials last year -- when the county approved construction of the large Columbia Crossing retail center near the intersection.

"I think this is an abuse of the public trust," said Sara Uphouse, the Long Reach village manager. Republican state Sen. Martin G. Madden of Columbia said the county should move forward with construction. "The community was promised this intersection," Madden said.

Meanwhile, a task force of community leaders and state and county engineers has wrapped up several months of meetings regarding the intersection.

In its final report -- expected to be released within several weeks -- the task force will recommend construction of a $13 million, "diamond-style" overpass that will incorporate either traffic lights two "roundabouts," according to Uphouse, state highway official Steven Foster and other members of the task force. The task force is split over when this overpass should be built, with half wanting it to be built now and half after Route 100 is open.

Task force member Henry Dagenais, a member of the Long Reach Village Board, said that if the county doesn't build the more expensive overpass interchange now -- after it has received months of intense pressure from citizens and state politicians to do so -- it may never build it.

"The gut feeling is that we can't trust the county to put that [project] off," he said.

But the county and state engineers on the task force say that with road construction funds so scarce, it makes sense to wait. "I would like to see what happens when Route 100 comes into play," said Ron Lepson, head of engineering for the Howard County Department of Public Works.

Last year, Howard County engineers predicted the traffic volumes for the intersection of Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway. The county studies show that from 1995 to 2000, the number of cars will increase, despite the Route 100 opening. Studies show the traffic volume during the peak hour of evening traffic in the following years:

1995: 5,664 vehicles.

2000 (before Route 100 opens): 8,102 vehicles.

2000 (after Route 100 opens): 6,925 vehicles.

2010: 10,590 vehicles.

2020: 12,616 vehicles.

At the same time, state studies show that the opening of Route 100 will lead to increased traffic on Snowden River Parkway. "Traffic forecasting is not an exact science," said Gene Straub, a state official who has studied the intersection.

BTC In any case, Lepson, the county engineer, said the county's proposed widening along Route 175 would make the intersection more efficient than it is now -- even at the 2000 traffic volumes.

The controversy over the intersection of Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway began earlier this year when county officials considered it as a possible location for an innovative design called "dispersed movement," which would have used a series of timed traffic lights to route left-turning cars into special turning lanes.

This design would have saved the county at least $9 million over building an overpass, but state engineers rejected that proposal last month as too risky and untested for such a busy


Pub Date: 10/30/96

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