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Rural Way, Growing County At Crossroads With Rte. 32

Residents Worry About Sprawl, Traffic Safety

By Mary Otto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 3, 2005; Page HO14

They are all pondering the same nine miles of blacktop.

But they have different ways of thinking about the growth projections, environmental concerns and accident rates along the only two-lane stretch of Route 32.

For years a contingent of local leaders has pressed the state for improvements to the nine-mile segment that runs between Route 108 in Clarksville and Interstate 70 in West Friendship, saying it must be expanded to alleviate traffic congestion, reduce accidents and improve the state's road network across central Maryland.

But others who live along the highway lined with farms and houses say they fear such an expansion will encourage sprawl and destroy the area's rural character.

As residents and state and county officials continue the debate, they know the future of western Howard could be at stake.

Maryland's "smart growth" policy championed by then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) was designed to protect rural areas by directing state spending to construction of roads and sewers in established communities. But last summer, the three-member state Board of Public Works, which includes Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), voted to exempt the Route 32 expansion project from the smart growth law.

"Governor Glendening was so opposed to development [outside the smart growth areas]. Now we have a governor sympathetic to the need," said state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman (R-Howard), who lives on a farm just off Route 32 and favors the expansion.

It was only the second time the board had voted to grant an exception to the landmark 1997 law. In 1999, it agreed to an exception to begin planning a bypass around Manchester in Carroll County.

In his recently released budget for the coming fiscal year, Ehrlich earmarked nearly $29 million for land acquisition and construction of an interchange at Burntwoods and Route 32, near Glenelg High School, with work slated to start in 2007.

Interchanges have also been recommended for five other locations along Route 32: at Linden Church Road, at the Dayton state highway maintenance shop at Rosemary Lane, at Route 144 and at I-70. The total cost of the interchanges and widening to four lanes is estimated between $230 million and $280 million, according to the Maryland State Highway Administration. No timetable has been set, but the project could take more than a decade, depending on funding.

The smart growth law established growth areas across Maryland where new construction and projects, such as road, water and sewer improvements, are to be targeted. It also designates slow-growth sections where the state cannot fund projects without the approval of the Board of Public Works. Western Howard is designated a slow-growth area.

Last month, a coalition of environmental, preservation and community groups known as 1000 Friends of Maryland filed a suit in Howard County Circuit Court to stop the project. The lawsuit says the Board of Public Works has violated the smart growth law in exempting the project.

"The state smart growth law says we shouldn't spend precious state money . . . to fund sprawl development that has sucked the life out of older communities," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends.

In a recently released study of suburban sprawl in the region, 1000 Friends gave Howard County a grade of D minus for its farmland preservation policies.

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