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The outer beltway that wasn't Route 100 link: Between suburbs, highway will serve as once-planned southern loop.


AFTER SEVERAL delays, the 7.5-mile portion of Route 100 is open. At a cost of nearly $85 million, the artery provides a link between Interstate 97 in Anne Arundel County and Interstate 95 in Howard County, making the rapidly growing areas between Elkridge and Pasadena even more attractive to new residents and business.

Completion of the full length of Route 100 is still three years off, but when the $170 million project is finished it will be an important beltway-like connector. By 2020, 86,500 commuters will travel on the road each day, state highway officials estimate.

The story of Route 100 mirrors the growth of Baltimore's southern suburbs. The first leg of the road -- from Gibson Island to what now is I-97 -- began in the 1960s, when John F. Kennedy was president and suburbanization was in its adolescence. As the suburbs have aged, the populations of Anne Arundel and Howard counties have risen three-fold, fueled by growth in defense and technology industries.

Many through-routes have changed dramatically. U.S. 1, once the main drag from Baltimore to Washington (actually Maine to Florida) no longer is a stretch dominated by ticky-tacky tourist cottages, but by burgeoning, modern industrial parks.

Route 100 eventually will intersect with Route 29 in Howard County. Further growth, alas, is inevitable. This is evident by hectic construction along its path. A shopping center is arising, so are warehouses and apartment complexes. Baltimore and Washington's spheres continue to creep nearer to each other.

But this connector route was also necessary for an area that has already grown up. At least initially, Route 100 will cut commuting time for many area residents. Ultimately, the new road may be so heavily used that it, too, will become congested. Such has been the experience of other highways clogged by their own success.

Route 100 and the landscape changes it will produce continue the transformation of Anne Arundel and Howard from a patchwork of truck farms and dairylands into more densely developed "edge cities." Years ago, there was talk of building an "outer beltway" around Baltimore. Nothing came of the idea. For many in the southern portion of the metropolitan region, Route 100 could become their beltway.

Pub Date: 11/28/96

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