Howard County residents have about a month to pick a name for something called a tunnel boring machine that will soon be hard at work under the county’s surface.

Despite its “boring” name, the tunnel-excavating machine will play an integral role in preventing rising waters in flood-prone Ellicott City.

County Executive Calvin Ball said tunnel boring machines are typically named before construction. He said he wanted to follow that tradition, but add a local spin by suggesting names related to Historic Ellicott City and the Tiber-Hudson watershed.

Residents can vote for one of the following names: Ellicott Drills, Ellicott Excavator, Granite, Granite Grinder, Hudson and Rocky.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“I like them all — which is why it’s important for me to gather community input,” Ball said in an email. “While it is easy for us to simply name the machine for this historic project, we wanted to include community input. … Together, we will be cheering on the Tunnel Boring Machine as it makes progress on constructing the tunnel!”

As of Thursday evening, a spokesperson for Ball said, the survey had received more than 450 votes. Voting closes April 15.

The tunnel boring machine will work on a project called the Extended North Tunnel, which will divert flood waters away from Main Street during major weather events. An 18-foot-diameter tunnel will carry flood waters to the Patapsco River.

The project is part of the Safe and Sound Plan that Ball introduced in 2018, less than a month after he was first elected county executive. The plan is to help temper flash floods in Ellicott City, which was devastated by major flooding events in 2011, 2016 and 2018.

“It became even more apparent that a flood mitigation strategy that would save lives and preserve our historic town was long overdue,” Ball said.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Ball said the county plans to break ground this summer on the project, which will take three to four years to complete.

After the tunnel boring machine cuts through 5,000 feet of granite, it will start digging to create the tunnel, which will be able to transport 26,000 gallons of water per second — that’s about one-fourth the size of an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

At 5,300 feet long, the tunnel will not only intercept and divert water from Main Street — it will reduce the depth and velocity of floodwaters.

“During a 100-year level storm, our plan will leave less than a foot of water on Main Street,” Ball said.

This project is made possible in part by $850,000 in federal funding recently secured by U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, whose district includes Howard County. The community funding also included money for two other county projects.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“Members of Congress had the opportunity to secure funding for projects in their district that they think should have priority attention if they’re a governmental or a nonprofit project,” Sarbanes said. “So, we thought that the North Tunnel Project in Ellicott City, as part of the whole Safe and Sound effort there, was certainly worthy and we were ratified that we were able to get that amount included in the appropriations bill that was passed last week.”

Sarbanes originally requested $2 million for the North Tunnel Project in 2023, stating that funding would preserve a historic mill town while encouraging businesses and residents to remain and others to invest in Main Street for years to come.

Howard County will soon begin work on the North Tunnel, which will divert floodwaters away from Main Street in Ellicott City during major weather events. (Source: Howard County)

As the tunnel project breaks ground this summer, Ball said, the county will start the next step of the Safe and Sound plan, which will be a flood mitigation pond called the H-4 Pond that will hold more than 5.5 million gallons of water.

Another phase of the plan, the deconstruction of four buildings along Ellicott City’s lower Main Street, began in January.

“This building removal work is necessary to advance the Maryland Avenue Culverts project, which will include the construction of two culverts underneath the B&O Rail Museum to facilitate the flow of water into the Patapsco River,” Ball said. “Once complete, the site will be stabilized so community members and visitors can begin to enjoy a new, vibrant outdoor space with views of the Tiber River, while plans for an expanded Tiber Park commence.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Concept design for the expanded Tiber Park will begin this spring.

Also, starting this Friday, residents and business owners who are in high-risk flood zones across the county can apply to a grant program that will help with flood-proofing and flood mitigation projects at their properties, Ball said.

The county will match up to 50% of grant funds, and the application period will be open until May 1.

More than $150,000 has been distributed through the program, which was launched in 2019, Ball said.

Abby Zimmardi is a reporter covering Howard County for The Baltimore Banner. Zimmardi earned her master’s degree from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism in December 2022.

More From The Banner