Suit seeks to block funding for widening of Route 32

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A conservation group and a Clarksville resident are suing the state in an attempt to block funding for widening Route 32 in western Howard County.

In a lawsuit filed yesterday in Howard County Circuit Court, Nancy Davis, who lives near the roadway, and 1000 Friends of Maryland accuse the Board of Public Works of illegally exempting the project from the state's Smart Growth law.

The lawsuit asks that a judge overturn the board's decision.

"This is just completely violating the purpose of the [Smart Growth] law, the intent of the law and certainly the spirit of the law," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, 1000 Friends executive director.

The $200 million project would turn the heavily traveled stretch of the two-lane road between Route 108 and Interstate 70 into a four-lane highway. The state claims the expansion is necessary to reduce congestion and improve safety on what the Department of Transportation views as the most heavily traveled stretch of two-lane road in the state.

State Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said the lawsuit was without merit and that he was "much more concerned about the deaths that seem to be occurring frequently from traffic accidents on Route 32.

"Their interest in litigating this issue is in complete disregard to the loss of life that we're experiencing on Route 32," he said.

Accident rates have dropped on Route 32 since safety improvements were made in the late 1990s. However, the accident rate has started to increase with new housing developments in Howard, Carroll and Frederick counties.

On Jan. 7, a 23-year-old Baltimore man died after he attempted to make a U-turn on the roadway and his car was struck from behind by a sport utility vehicle, police said.

Flanagan also said that widening the roadway would serve the development that has taken place or has been approved.

But Schmidt-Perkins said the project would violate the Smart Growth law, which aims to curb suburban sprawl by limiting state funding for roads, sewer lines and other public facilities to established communities.

She said it would increase poorly planned development in the rural areas of Howard, Carroll and Frederick as people move farther from where they work or go to school.

"It will end up with more traffic, worse air and increase threats to our water," said Schmidt-Perkins, whose group comprises businesses, preservationists and environmentalists.

The lawsuit claims the board's July vote to exempt the project did not fall within the criteria for exceptions to the Smart Growth law.

According to the lawsuit, the law allows state spending on some projects that are not "priority funding areas" if they meet one of four criteria: projects necessitated by extraordinary circumstances; qualified transportation projects; exempted projects; and public school projects.

State officials have claimed the roadway's congestion and accident rates qualify as an exceptional circumstance.

The Route 32 project is the second major exemption granted under the law. A proposed bypass around Manchester in Carroll County received an exemption in 1999 but has yet to be built.

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