Stop-and-sit traffic on two major thoroughfares is forcing Howard County officials to offer expansion plans earlier than anticipated.
One proposal involves adding a fourth lane to each side of U.S. 29 between Interstate 70 and Route 100. The second project entails widening the two-lane eastbound section of Route 32 to include a third lane between U.S. 29 and Broken Land Parkway.
Although the county's 1995 Comprehensive Transportation Plan had envisioned expanding U.S. 29 and Route 32 by 2010, officials said they were taken aback by the rapid increase in the volume of traffic on both highways.
"We knew from years ago that after Route 100 was opened, we would have a dramatic increase in traffic," said Carl Balser, the county's transportation planning chief. "What we didn't anticipate was how quickly people would change their regular traffic patterns."
James M. Irvin, director of the Department of Public Works, said the county could have widened both highways earlier but constrained budgets forced officials to deal with more significant road problems in other parts of the county first. "In retrospect, something could have been done differently, but the roads are what they are and we have to deal with them," he said.
U.S. 29 and Route 32 have become attractive thoroughfares for people who live in Baltimore and Carroll counties and even in southern Pennsylvania, said Irvin. Traffic counts suggest that Irvin is right. Ben Pickar, planning supervisor for the Division of Transportation Planning, said traffic on U.S. 29 north and south of the U.S. 40 interchange has more than doubled, from about 95,000 vehicles a day in 1987 to about 203,000 a day in May.
Similarly, traffic on Route 32 east of U.S. 29 has more than tripled, from 28,975 vehicles a day in 1985 to 89,926 a day in May.
Irvin said the plan for Route 32 is to add a 12-foot-wide lane to the 2.2-mile-long section of the eastbound highway. Also, the bridge spanning the Little Patuxent River must be expanded.
That third lane would alleviate a morning rush-hour bottleneck that occurs when motorists coming off southbound U.S. 29 onto eastbound Route 32 are slowed to a crawl, creating a backup onto U.S. 29.
"That queue is backing onto the deceleration lane of 29 and occasionally backs into the through lanes," Balser said. "It's a traffic hazard."
The county will assume about $4.5 million of the $6 million cost associated with the Route 32 project, while the state picks up the rest of the tab. Construction is expected to begin in the spring and could take a year.
Details of the U.S. 29 project are sketchy, but Irvin said a fourth lane in both directions of the thoroughfare probably would consume part of the grassy median.
Construction won't begin until next fall and could take a year, Irvin said. No cost has been determined for widening U.S. 29.
Irvin said evening rush-hour congestion on westbound Route 100 to northbound U.S. 29 has become so frustrating that drivers are resorting to using Montgomery Road to get to U.S. 29 or St. Johns Lane to get to U.S. 40.
"We believe it's a wise investment of the excise tax to keep people from driving through neighborhoods," he said. "If we don't keep the major roads functional people are going to divert to the neighborhood roads."
A public hearing on both proposals is scheduled Oct. 18 at the Baltimore Metropolitan Council headquarters, 601 N. Howard St., Baltimore.