Motorists welcome interchange upgrades

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Construction is scheduled to begin next year on $84 million worth of improvements to the interchange of Interstate 95 and Route 24, and Geoffrey Hankins, who drives through the area nearly every workday, says it can't come too soon.

"It's quite dangerous," the Pylesville resident said of a stretch of roadway that is considered the most congested and most accident-prone in Harford County.

The situation is particularly bad in the evening, he said, when cars waiting to exit onto Route 24 from northbound I-95 are backed up to Route 152 - about two miles.

"You see a lot of rear-ender accidents," Hankins said.

Robert Keesling, who lives just outside of Bel Air, is one of those motorists reluctant to stop at the end of the line of cars on I-95. To avoid the danger from fast-moving traffic behind him, he passes the long line of cars waiting on the exit ramp and darts into the traffic when an opportunity presents.

"It gets hairy," he said. "You have got to keep moving. You can't come to a stop. If you do, you could be in big trouble from behind."

County officials have long acknowledged the serious problems at the interchange, which also includes nearby Route 924 and Tollgate Road.

Between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. each weekday, about 5,000 cars navigate the exit ramps and merge lanes at I-95 and Route 24, according to the county's Department of Public Works. The evening rush hour is more congested, when about 7,000 vehicles make the trip between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.

According to the State Highway Administration, the area averages more than one accident a week. There are 21 percent more accidents at the interchange than at any similar interchanges statewide.

County Executive James M. Harkins has made the interchange his top transportation priority, said John J. O'Neill Jr., the county's director of administration. His lobbying efforts paid off this month when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced he planned to spend about $84 million to improve the interchange as part of his statewide road-building plan.

"It's going to be a lot safer for motorists when we're done," Dennis N. Simpson, a planning manager with the Maryland Transportation Authority, said as he detailed some of the planned changes.

Simpson said there are plans to lengthen and expand to two lanes exit ramp number 77 on northbound I-95 to Route 24. Motorists could take that ramp to head toward Edgewood or to the intersection of Route 924 and Tollgate Road.

A second ramp, just north of Route 24, also will be expanded to two lanes. This ramp loops around and takes traffic onto Route 24 north toward Bel Air. Motorists taking this ramp will cross a new bridge that goes over Route 924 and Tollgate Road.

Other changes proposed for the interchange include:

A new ramp to serve motorists traveling north on Route 24 heading to I-95 southbound.

An extension of the ramp off Route 24 south to southbound I-95, to ease the congestion of traffic merging onto the interstate.

The elimination of a ramp that loops traffic from northbound Route 24 to southbound I-95. Simpson said this would eliminate congestion.

Motorists will not be the only ones benefiting from the highway improvement. It also will be a boon to Aberdeen Proving Ground, the county's largest employer, according to the state Transportation Authority.

Effect on APG

Route 24 is one of the main roads leading to the Edgewood area of APG, a 72,500-acre military installation that employs more than 12,000 military and civilian personnel and accounts for about 10 percent of the county's work force.

Easing the flow of traffic to and from the base likely would help APG as the Department of Defense considers plans to close or realign military bases across the country, said George Mercer, an APG spokesman. He said the improvements would be conducive to move additional military installations to Aberdeen.

The changes also are expected to help retailers near the interchange.

Benefit to retailers

Retailers near Route 924 and Tollgate Road also will get some relief from a reduction of traffic congestion, said William Seccurro, president of the Harford County Chamber of Commerce.

"Nobody has complained," Seccurro said. "But if the road improvements make it easier for consumers to get to Wal-Mart, Target or BJ's, it is only going to help those stores."

Simpson said the improvements to the interchange at I-95 and Route 24 could be completed in 2009. He said there are also plans to widen I-95 from near the Baltimore City line to Route 22 in Harford County.

He said the changes will make it easier and safer for motorists to travel from Harford County to Baltimore.

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