With efforts to rejuvenate a long-maligned but potential-laden section of U.S. 1 creeping forward, Howard County officials and the State Highway Administration unveiled a draft transportation plan that calls for adding paths, sidewalks, side roads, bike lanes, bus lanes, car lanes and a median to deal with increased traffic and use as the corridor grows.
At a meeting Monday evening at Elkridge Landing Middle School, planners, designers and engineers laid out a proposal on colorful maps and asked community residents for feedback about how the plans would affect their neighborhoods and what they overlooked or misjudged.
"How do we make sure we protect the health of the neighborhood and businesses while helping to foster new neighborhoods and businesses?" said Steve Lafferty, deputy director of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning.
As more residential units, retail and office space pop up along the 11 miles of U.S. 1 that shoot through Howard County, officials hope to control congestion, improve safety and make it easier for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists to circulate.
To that end, their maps were criss-crossed with dots and lines, showing new network paths and roads that would reduce dependence on U.S. 1. Presenters talked about designated turn lanes, reducing the number of driveways, adding signals, creating visible crossing zones and possibly expanding U.S. 1 to six lanes and making it a "real boulevard" with a median.
They hope to create a main-street affect by adding walkways and sidewalks. They would like people to travel between stores, restaurants, offices and homes on foot. They would like to make the area "quasi-urban" by adding street trees, banners, lights and open spaces.
About 50 residents showed up Monday night. Some wanted more green space or safe, walkable sidewalks or a more definitive time line. Others had comments about where a signal could be shorter or an additional road could ease traffic.
"Anything to make Route 1 less industrial and more like a community will increase the value of my property," said Jennifer Wellman, 29, who bought a home in Elkridge a year ago.
But she has concerns about the timing and feasibility of the plans, given that the expansion of Fort Meade is expected to bring thousands of jobs to the area in the next five to seven years.
"They need to have a bigger commitment to making this happen sooner rather than later," Wellman said. "People are coming whether you like it or not. The homes are coming. It takes so long for traffic studies and roads, but the sooner you can get that going the better. ... To me, it seems like a lot of dreams. We'll see what actually happens."
Jeff Harmon, 38, and his wife are considering buying a home in one of the developments along U.S. 1 and wanted to know how his potential future property could be affected by development. He liked the idea of widening the highway and adding pedestrian walkways and smaller side roads.
Though revitalization of the U.S. 1 corridor is expected to take at least a decade, the process is well under way. Some key pieces that are completed or in the works are the transformation of the former Eastgate Shopping Center in Jessup into commercial condominiums, the expansion of the Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream plant and the development of mixed-use projects at Elkridge Crossing, Belmont Station and Ashbury Court. Other anticipated multi-use projects include the 11-acre Savage Towne Centre, the Blue Stream Overlook and the Elkridge Town Center.
A second meeting covering the same material will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. today in the Great Room at Savage Mill, 8600 Foundry St. in Savage.