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Have your say on I-95 growth

The Baltimore Sun

Many are the motorists who have contracted headaches, heartburn or worse traveling on Interstate 95 through Harford County.

Many, too, have no doubt imagined solutions for making the highway better - if only someone would listen.

State transportation officials say that time has arrived.

With some work to improve the interstate already under way and other projects soon to be launched, state highway officials are holding two sessions to update residents and solicit feedback.

State officials say that the objective of the "open house" sessions - one in Abingdon and one in Essex - is to apprise residents of the status of six projects that are in various stages of design and construction along the stretch from the Interstate 895 split in Baltimore County through four interchanges in Harford County.

The events will feature work stations with details of the improvements, including timelines and cost estimates, where available. Maryland Transportation Authority project managers will be on hand to answer questions and address concerns.

"These plans are under way, and the information is available to the community," said Teri Moss, a transportation authority spokeswoman. "Public opinion is a big part of this process, and we want open dialogues."

State officials have set a 2008 deadline for deciding how best to upgrade the 16-mile stretch of the interstate from Route 43 in White Marsh to Route 22 in Aberdeen. The two primary options are building more general lanes or building toll lanes.

Toll lanes are under construction on the interstate from I-895 to Route 43 in Baltimore County. The nearly $1 billion project, scheduled for completion in 2011, will give motorists the option of driving in a less-congested toll lane along the 10-mile path of the road.

"We examined several options to manage congestion," Moss said. "Express toll lanes became the best option."

The toll lanes are expected to improve traffic flow on a stretch of the interstate that handles 183,500 vehicles daily from Route 43 to the Baltimore Beltway, and 176,800 vehicles from the Beltway to I-895, according to the most recent traffic estimates.

The daily trip numbers drop only slightly for traffic into Harford County - 165,000 daily from Route 43 to Route 152 and 151,000 to Route 24, which motorists take to reach Bel Air.

Upgrades to I-95 come not a moment too soon, state and county officials say. Harford could grow by as many as 60,000 residents in the next five years because of the nationwide military base expansion that will bring thousands of new jobs to Aberdeen Proving Ground. By 2035, daily traffic will grow by nearly 70,000 vehicles on each of those segments of the interstate, officials said.

"Improvements to this infrastructure are sorely needed and critical to our transportation capabilities," said Robert B. Thomas, Harford County government spokesman.

The open-house sessions will detail improvements set to begin this summer at the interstate's intersection with Routes 24 and 924. The completion date is in 2009, but since contractor bids are still being accepted, cost estimates are not available, state officials said.

Plans also call for adding 105 spaces at the two park-and-ride lots at I-95 and Route 152. The north lot will grow by 16 spaces and the south lot will gain 89 spaces, bringing the total to 310.

Renovations also are planned, with no timetable as yet, at the 35-year-old Maryland House and 45-year-old Chesapeake House rest stops. The upgrades will include additional parking and rest areas for truckers.

"We want to adapt them to the next 30 years of travelers," Moss said.

But the information presented at the sessions won't focus solely on I-95. Details on the plan to re-deck the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge over the Susquehanna River on U.S. 40 this fall also will be on display.

I-95, which opened in Maryland in 1963, stretches nearly 2,000 miles from Miami to Houlton, Maine, at the Canadian border. Almost 110 miles of the highway go through Maryland from the District of Columbia border at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to the Delaware line.

The first open house will be held from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Old Post Elementary School, 2706 Old Philadelphia Road, Abingdon. The Essex branch of the Community College of Baltimore County will host the second event from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday in Building B Upstairs Lobby, 7201 Rossville Blvd.

Information: 866-713-1596.

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