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December 22, 2004

Route 32 Expansion Will Reduce Congestion, Study Finds

The best way to relieve congestion on Route 32 between Interstate 70 and Route 108 in Maryland is to adopt the State Highway Administration (SHA) plan to widen Route 32 to four lanes, according to a study by graduate students in the UMBC Department of Public Policy.

The study, Maryland Route 32: A Policy Analysis, examined alternatives for addressing the congestion on the heavily traveled, undivided two-lane stretch of road in Howard County. The SHA proposed that the road be widened to four lanes, with interchanges and service roads, and received an exemption from the Maryland's Smart Growth law to allow state funding for the project. However, community activists and environmental groups oppose the SHA plan, and one group has announced that it will file suit to stop state funding for the $220 million expansion.

The students first analyzed projected growth for the region, and determined that population and the number of vehicles in Howard and neighboring Carroll and Frederick counties will continue to grow over the next 25 years. The study concluded that given projected growth rates, traffic on Route 32 will increase regardless of the width of the road.

The study then evaluated three options: keep the road as it is (no-build); convert Route 32 to a limited access highway with interchanges (structural upgrades); or move forward with the SHA plan to widen Route 32 to four lanes (four-lane expansion). The report found that if reducing congestion is the primary objective, the SHA plan to widen Route 32 to four lanes receives the highest ranking.

Recognizing the controversy surrounding major road projects in Maryland, the report also identified drawbacks to the four lane expansion, which include higher costs, negative environmental impacts, more noise and the potential to spur construction and urban sprawl.

"If decision makers place more importance on these criteria than on reducing congestion, then we recommend that the structural upgrade alternative be pursued," the report said. The authors also questioned whether stopping the four lane expansion would actually slow the rate of sprawl in light of local economic development plans, noting: "One county's sprawl is another county’s economic lifeline." The study suggested that drawbacks such as cost, environmental impacts and noise will be offset by a widened and improved road with better access and an increased level of safety.

About UMBC Public Policy Department:
UMBC Public Policy graduate students analyzed Route 32 expansion alternatives in the state as part of their Public Policy Capstone seminar, a course where students, working with faculty and outside experts in relevant fields, prepare a policy analysis of a current topic. The study is available online as a PDF file at http://www.umbc.edu/mipar.

The UMBC Department of Public Policy provides quality education for a diverse range of students who wish to pursue or further a career in a public policy related area. The interdisciplinary program offers both a Master of Public Policy and a Ph.D. in Public Policy.

Posted by dwinds1 at December 22, 2004 12:00 AM