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Route 175 project plan takes shape

The Baltimore Sun

State officials will unveil their options today to widen parts of Route 175 between the heart of Odenton and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway before a major expansion at nearby Fort Meade.

The 5.2-mile project, which could cost nearly $350 million, would expand the highway from four to six lanes in congested areas leading to Fort Meade. It would also extend the highway from two to four or five lanes near the future Odenton Town Center, a long-sought, pedestrian-friendly mix of homes and businesses.

"We have worse areas in the state, but Route 175 is congested already, and in forecasting the future, we see this area being a bottleneck," said Doug Simmons, deputy administrator of the State Highway Administration. "If there aren't improvements, you're going to see this area become untenable when it comes to providing access to Fort Meade."

Simmons said that in the next 20 years, traffic on Route 175 is expected to nearly double, from about 35,000 cars per day to about 60,000. Planning for the road's widening should be complete by spring 2009, Simmons said, but renovations cannot be made until funding is obtained.

County Executive John R. Leopold said he has contacted members of the congressional delegation and Gov. Martin O'Malley to "fast-track" the Route 175 project, similar to the process of the Intercounty Connector.

"The effort to find revenue is ongoing," he said.

A report prepared by the county's economic agency and obtained last week by The Sun urged the county to invest in the infrastructure needed to attract developers to the 1,600-acre site now, before the base realignment and closure process brings 12,000 jobs to Fort Meade by 2011. Otherwise, the authors predicted, the county would lose tens of millions of dollars as developers head to Howard County or Baltimore, or build a mishmash of projects here.

County and local officials said yesterday they welcome the dialogue on the expansion of the road, but expressed reservations about how it will affect the Odenton Town Center.

"This town center has been on the books for a long time, and I'd hate to see a road expansion defeat the whole purpose of it," County Councilman Jamie Benoit, an Odenton Democrat, said. "If you split the middle of the town center with an expressway, I'm concerned about how that would affect it."

Bruce McPherson, president of the Greater Odenton Improvement Association, an umbrella organization of community groups, said his greatest concern is the construction timetable.

"It's frustrating the process is so slow, but I guess these things take time," said McPherson, whose organization met with SHA officials last month.

Torrey C. Jacobsen Jr., president of the Greater Crofton Council, said he is frustrated that officials have focused on expanding Route 175 but "ignored" Route 3, which leads to Route 175 about three miles south of the proposed Odenton Town Center.

"When it comes to Fort Meade, [Route 3] is really an extension of the same road [Route 175], but our elected officials are making Route 175 more of a priority," Jacobsen said. "We've been studying traffic problems on Route 3 for 25 years."

Simmons said the SHA is considering options for several other roads and highways in the region and is in preliminary studies to rebuild a nine-mile section of Route 3 leading north from U.S. 50. The estimated cost is $700 million.

The State Highway Administration will hold a meeting on proposed improvements for Route 175 from 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. today at Meade High School, 1100 Clark Road, Fort Meade. Attendees can ask questions and view the proposed changes.

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