Ed Sheridan's big Chevy sedan had little company on two-lane Snowden River Parkway when he and his wife moved to Crazyquilt Court near the Hopewell pool in 1976.
"There was practically no traffic at all when I moved in," recalled Sheridan, 87, an Eastman Kodak retiree.
Now, east Columbia's explosive commercial growth has spawned traffic that chokes the four-lane parkway during peak times, and Sheridan said it's often a risky adventure to emerge from Rustling Leaf to turn north, across traffic.
"You have to wait and sneak across," he said, or turn right and go south until a U-turn is possible.
The county government is planning to relieve congestion in what has become Columbia's hottest retail/office hub by adding a third lane in each direction and remaking the southern terminus intersection at Broken Land Parkway. The project consists of four phases and will take a decade to complete. On Thursday, the county planning board will review funding for two of the phases.
Traffic studies tell part of the parkway's tale.
Average traffic volume increased 24 percent in the decade after 1996, county officials said. Another survey comparing 2004 with 2008 shows an average evening rush hour increase of 30 percent at Route 108 and Snowden River, while morning counts increased by 15 percent to 18 percent at intersections farther south.
What was formerly the General Electric appliance manufacturing park east of the Snowden River has become the bustling Gateway Commerce Center. Other development - big box shopping centers, more homes and office buildings, a movie theater - has sprung up nearby, with more to come.
A 160,000-square-foot Wegmans supermarket at the McGaw Road corner and two new hotels near Broken Land Parkway are next in line, and the Wegmans won't be delayed by the economy, project manager Stephen Leaty said.
In addition, Snowden River has become a commuter route connecting Route 100 to Broken Land Parkway's entrance to Route 32, county public works director James Irvin said. The congestion is evident during rush hour and especially on weekends.
"The proof is going out there at rush hour, and Wegmans isn't even there," Irvin said.
The county's plan to widen the road isn't motivated by the Wegmans project, though the new store will certainly exacerbate the need, he added.
The capital budget shows the county is just getting started on planning, acquiring more right of way, and engineering the widening.
The southern end, from Broken Land to Oakland Mills, is to get attention first, officials said.
So far, $450,000 has been allocated for a third lane and sidewalks on the northbound side of the parkway up to Oakland Mills Road. Construction money is scheduled for fiscal 2011. In addition, $100,000 is scheduled to be spent in the budget year starting July 1 for planning a remake of the intersection of Broken Land and Snowden River.
At Thursday's hearing, scheduled for 7 p.m. in the county's temporary offices at 8930 Stanford Blvd., two projects will be reviewed.
One, for the coming fiscal year, would allocate $500,000 to engineer a third lane on both sides of the parkway from Oakland Mills to Route 108. The other would schedule $250,000 in the fiscal 2012 budget for planning the extra lane on the southbound side from Oakland Mills to Broken Land. Construction there would begin in fiscal 2015.
Complications such as acquiring land and engineering the new lanes near Berger Road, where the northbound and southbound road are at different elevations, could delay things, Irvin said.
Andy Stack, chairman of the Owen Brown Village Board, said his group, along with County Council member Jen Terrasa, a Democrat from Kings Contrivance, is working with Howard traffic experts on solutions to the Rustling Leaf problem while closely monitoring the county's planning for the parkway.
"In rush hour, you just sit," Stack said.
The village board welcomes a wider parkway, Stack said, though he suspects it could also make the Rustling Leaf problem worse.
Terrasa and Calvin Ball, the two County Council members who represent the area, also support the widening. Ball, an east Columbia Democrat, said that despite the wider roadway, the county can provide safe crossings for pedestrians.
Data from county traffic study on Snowden River Parkway
Average total daily volume
Morning rush hour increases
Intersection with Snowden Square Center
Intersection with Broken Land Parkway
Evening rush hour increases
Intersection with Route 108 (evening)
Intersection with Berger Road