The State Highway Administration is moving forward with its long-standing plan to widen northbound Route 29 in Columbia, and will hold the first of two public meetings Thursday, Sept. 22, to discuss its chosen approach for the project with residents.
The project, originally approved in 1987, will decrease traffic congestion and improve safety along the highway by expanding its last remaining two-lane stretch, between the Middle Patuxent River and Route 175, to three lanes, and by removing access points at Old Columbia Road and Gales Lane, said Charlie Gischlar, a SHA spokesman.
The first meeting, for residents of Old Columbia Road and the Oakland Mills community, will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday at Hammond High School, 8800 Guilford Road in Columbia.
The second meeting, for residents of Gales Lane and the Oakland Mills community, will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 26, also at Hammond High.
SHA staff will answer questions about the project in an open-house format.
The two-lane stretch already creates a traffic bottleneck for the almost 80,000 vehicles that travel it each day, and that number is expected to increase to 95,000 vehicles per day by 2030, Gischlar said.
The project is part of a much larger plan to transform Route 29 into a controlled-access freeway, and has been the topic of community meetings in the past, during which residents argued for and against different options for rerouting or closing access points to residential streets.
That planning phase is now complete, and the SHA has now moved into a design phase, Gischlar said.
The selected plans may be "honed a little bit more" based on specific concerns from residents, but the chosen options are final, and previously considered options that were not selected will not be reconsidered, he said.
The selected plans will:
•create a third northbound lane along the inside median of the highway;
•connect the two separate sections of Gales Lane just north of Rosinante Run and close the Gales Lane access point to the highway;
•connect Old Columbia Road to Twin Knolls Road by extending it north along the highway and close the Old Columbia Road access point to the highway.
About $5.5 million in funding, including more than $2 million from Howard County, has already been allocated for the project's design phase, although funding for construction has not yet been allocated, Gischlar said.
A schedule for the completion of the project has not been determined, and will depend on how quickly funding for construction can be obtained, he said.
A third closure at Rivers Edge Road that had previously been discussed is currently on hold because of a lack of funding, Gischlar said.
Gischlar said he encourages residents who did not attend meetings on the project in the past to do so now so that their comments can become part of the public record.