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Bridge Columbia News and Views
January 2015
Feasibility Study Outlines Options for Rt. 29 Bridge


In November, the Howard County Office of Transportation released a draft Executive Summary of the Downtown Columbia Bridge Feasibility Study. Although the full study has not been released yet, this document provides a preview of the options contained in the full report.


The study found that the existing bridge is an underused structure that is poorly lit, enclosed by an unattractive chain-link fence barrier and closely bordered by forest and underbrush. Also, the pathways connecting the bridge to Oakland Mills and Town Center need to be modernized with a focus on safety and security. The existing structure was evaluated and judged structurally sound. It could even handle transit vehicles, but the width of the bridge would not allow pedestrians and bicyclists to use the bridge at the same time as transit vehicles.


The summary outlines nine bridge options but does not make any recommendations. The options are:

1: Retrofit existing bridge

2:  Retrofit the existing bridge and build a second bridge with a complementary design

3a:  Build a cable-stayed bridge with a single transit lane

3b:  Build a cable-stayed bridge with dual transit lanes

4a: Build an iconic bridge with a single transit lane

4b: Build an iconic bridge with dual transit lanes

5a:      Build a bridge over Lake Kittamaqundi with pedestrian, bicycle and dual transit lanes

5b: Build a bridge over Lake Kittamaqundi with dual transit lanes

6:   Construct a personal rapid transit system which features small automated vehicles operating on a network of specialty built guideways.


The options range in price from $2.1 million to $163.1 million and the construction periods are between 2.5 and 9.2 years.  

Funds Requested for Bridge Columbia


Fred Gottemoeller, representing FOBC, urges County Executive Allan Kittleman to provide funding in the 2016 capital budget to design a new pedestrian, bicycle and transit bridge over Route 29 at the December 17th budget hearing. He said that the proposed construction schedule is too pessimistic. He stated that "If we're successful in this, Howard County will have a first building block for a sustainable transportation system."

Recommended Transportation Improvements Outlined in Report  


The Howard County Public Transportation Board (PTB) issued a report in November reviewing the existing transportation system's performance and suggesting improvements needed to meet increasing demand. In a transmittal letter, PTB Chair Sharonlee Vogel said, "Howard County, from a location and financial standpoint, is best positioned to respond to the growing needs and interest in transportation. It is a fact that our focus on schools, parks, libraries, etc., drives the selection of Howard County as being one of the best areas in this country to live, year after year after year. To maintain this position, we must find other ways than the personal automobile to provide transportation to work, schools, parks, libraries, shopping, etc."


The major findings of the report, which was authorized by the County Council, are:

  1. We are becoming more urban and dense.
  2. We need to identify funding and expand public transportation options now.
  3. We need to firmly link land use and transportation decisions.
  4. We need to establish a sensible set of policies and standards to guide the expansion of our public transportation network and all of its components.

Recommendations are provided for policy changes, sidewalk improvements, bicycle facilities, intra-county transit, regional transit and marketing and communications. There are two proposals in the report that relate to Bridge Columbia and the proposed transit shuttle connecting Blandair Park, Howard County General Hospital, and destinations in between. The report recommends working with Columbia Association to establish village-to-village shuttles and offering a Downtown Columbia shuttle between the Mall, Howard Community College and the hospital with 10 minute frequencies.


In This Issue

Bridges that Inspire

Soleri Bridge, Scottsdale, AZ

The Soleri Bridge in Scottsdale, AZ, is not only a pedestrian walkway.  Its unique design creates shadows and light that  function both as a solar calendar and work of art.  

Organizations Voice Support for Two Bridge Options 


In a joint statement, Friends of Bridge Columbia (FOBC), the Oakland Mills Village Board (OMVB), and the Central Maryland chapter of the National Federation of the Blind have endorsed Options 3b and 4b as outlined in the Downtown Columbia Bridge Feasibility Study Executive Summary.  (See article to left.) Both would create a landmark bridge with an exclusive bus roadway of two lanes.  


The groups praised the study for identifying and comparing options and the County Office of Transportation for including stakeholders in the research process. The criteria used by FOBC and OMVB to evaluate the various options were:

  • Will it accommodate public transit?
  • Will it prevent use of cars?
  • Does it comply with national bikeway standards?
  • Does it comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements?
  • Does it provide a safe and secure crossing?
  • Will users be able to cross Route 29 during construction?

The groups strongly opposed the low-cost retrofit option because it is a short-term solution that will take time and money away from developing a long-term solution. It also does not include transit, does not provide sufficient safety/security for bridge users, and does not bring the bridge into compliance with national design standards.   Other more expensive options that involve building a bridge over Lake Kittamaqundi and installing a personal rapid transit system were opposed because of their costs and the introduction of unnecessary complexities.


The joint statement also questioned the time and cost estimates in the study. It suggested an alternate approach that would take four rather than nine years, based on the work of other communities that have built similar projects. It also noted that the 15 percent inflation adjustment and 40 percent contingency assumption were too high. The report lists estimated costs for Options 3b and 4b at around $38 million.

Public Transportation Use Continues Upward Trend

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) released its third quarter 2014 ridership report on December 17th and reported that more than 2.7 billion trips were taken on public transportation during July, August, September. The number represents a 1.8 percent increase over the same quarter in 2013 and is the highest third quarter ridership since 1974.


APTA officials attributed the rise in public transportation use to the federal investment in public transportation that has resulted in new or improved rail and bus rapid transit and better public transportation service with increased frequency of service, improved fleets, and reliance on technology to facilitate use of the systems. The stronger U.S. economy has also contributed to public transportation use, since nearly 60 percent of public transit users are commuters.  


With falling gasoline prices, it will be interesting to see what impact, if any, there will be on ridership. Some are suggesting that the traditional link between gas prices and public transit ridership may be weakening. For more information, click here. 

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Friends of Bridge Columbia is a grassroots organization that supports a new bridge across Route 29. It will be the centerpiece of a major bike, bus, and pedestrian corridor connecting Howard County Hospital to Blandair Park. Bridge Columbia will be a signature structure, reflecting Columbia's welcoming character and commitment to sustainable living. Follow Friends of Bridge Columbia on Facebook, visit bridgecolumbia.org, and email info@bridgecolumbia.org.


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