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Transportation 'Priority Letter' to request funding new US29-N exit directly into Downtown Columbia

There are several potential transportation projects in Howard County, including a critical roadway project in Downtown Columbia, for which Howard County's Department of Transportation is seeking state funding. Howard County is due to submit its annual list of transportation priorities, better known as the priority letter, to the Maryland Department of Transportation later this month.


Here's a description of the priority letter from the Howard County Office of Transportation:

Every year Howard County updates the County’s list of transportation priorities for the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT)'s Consolidated Transportation Program. The list, also known as the Priority Letter, is developed based on input from the public, county staff as well as elected and appointed officials. The update is sent to the Maryland Secretary of Transportation, along with project questionnaires.
Following receipt of the letter and the scores, the Maryland Department of Transportation evaluates the projects in the letter to assist the state in updating the Consolidated Transportation Program (CTP) a six-year capital budget for State transportation projects. The CTP includes capital projects that are generally new, expanded or significantly improved facility or service that may involve planning, environmental studies, design, right-of-way acquisition, construction or the purchase of essential equipment related to the facility or service.

With Maryland flush with cash for infrastructure projects from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, this year's priority letter is all the more important given the new money available. Good transportation planning by Howard County government has positioned our county well to receive our share of state funding.


This year's project proposals are detailed on the County's Priority Letter website. I found the interactive map most helpful in gaining an understanding of projects being considered, which focus on improving safety and public transit in the priority corridors of US 1 and US 29, including bus rapid transit (BRT) on US-29 connecting Howard and Montgomery County.

Most notably for Downtown Columbia is the proposed design and construction of a new north-south connection from the US-29/Broken Land Parkway interchange to Little Patuxent Parkway that includes a spur off the existing northbound US29 off-ramp pursuant to the Downtown Columbia Plan.


This north-south connection, often referred to as the "Jug Handle," would provide direct access from US-29N directly into the Merriweather District and onwards to the Lakefront, passing Merriweather Post Pavilion, the site of the future New Cultural Center, and Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods the Mall in Columbia. The intersection of Little Patuxent Parkway and Broken Land Parkway would be realigned into a 3-way intersection at the current site of the Central Branch of the Howard County Public library. A new central library, with residential units above, is slated to be built in the Merriweather District.

The Downtown Columbia North / South Connector, or Jug Handle, would connect Rt - 29N to Little Patuxent Parkway.

This North-South connector is part of the original Downtown Columbia Plan. It would make Downtown Columbia easier to find, and quicker and safer to get into and out of, as the Merriweather District Parking garage is the located immediately off the proposed exit ramp. The new connector should also help alleviate traffic on Broken Land Parkway and Little Patuxent Parkway making it safer for cyclists and pedestrians to get around Downtown, since traffic from US-29 heading towards Downtown Columbia would no longer have to use these roads. Further more, it would make it simpler for local residents to get to restaurants and retail in Downtown Columbia, especially when concerts are occurring at Merriweather Post Pavilion.


While this project focuses primarily on a new vehicle connection, I'm pleased to see that bike/pedestrian infrastructure improvements are also included in the proposed priority letter. Specifically, funding for the South Entrance Trail - a 1.3 mile bike/pedestrian pathway connecting Downtown Columbia to Steven Forests that would run underneath US-32 and Broken Land Parkway along the Little Patuxent River is included in the list of proposed projects. While not specifically mentioned in the draft priority letter, the transportation project that this blogger would most like to see is pedestrian improvements to the Broken Land Parkway / Hickory Ridge Road intersection that would significantly improve bike and pedestrian access between Hickory Ridge and Downtown Columbia. As I've previously written about, there are significant opportunities to fill in some missing gaps to greatly improve connectivity of Downtown Columbia to nearby villages.


A virtual public meeting on the priority letter process and proposed projects was held on January 27, 2022. A recording of the meeting is posted on YouTube and a copy of the public meeting presentation slides are also available. Howard County is soliciting feedback on the projects to include in its proposal through today, Thursday February 3. Information on how to provide via survey or email, is posted on the County's Priority Letter website.


In other transportation news, the Howard County Office of Transportation is holding an active transportation virtual open house from February 12 to February 18 to provide an opportunity for residents to learn more about active transportation in Howard County including biking, walking, compete streets, and shared electric scooters and bicycle programs.

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