Army Engineers Put Route 216 Project On Road To Oblivion

May 01, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

The county's top state roads project, reconstruction of Route 216 from U.S. 29 to Interstate 95, has been delayed indefinitely and may never be built, the County Council was told Monday.

Not only that, but the county is going to need to come up with at least $17 million more a year for the next 17 years to help pay for improvements to 13 other state roads, Public Works director James M. Irvin told the council.

As a result, Irvin said, the county will have to "bite the bullet." He and budget analysts say that in future years, the county may have to raise taxes, receive developer contributions from an adequate facilities ordinance and defer other capital projects until schools and roads are paid for.

A 14-cent increase per $100 of assessed value is already proposed in the fiscal 1992 budget.

As for Route 216,Irvin said the Army Corps of Engineers has vetoed plans for the four-lane, cross-county freeway because it would run parallel to a streambed and cross 17 acres of wetlands.

Unless the corps amends its findings, which is unlikely, the only way the new Route 216 could survive would be as a bridge more than 5 miles long -- longer than the span across the Chesapeake Bay, Irvin said.

Irvin informed the council of the route's demise prior to an informal council vote to delete a nearby reconstruction project on

Murray Hill Road from the proposed capital budget for fiscal 1992.

Although Murray Hill residentshad asked the council in public hearings to remove the road from thecapital budget, to do so now would leave Route 32 as the only cross-county highway in the southern end of the county, Irvin said.

Regardless, the council voted unanimously to delete the $1.8 million widening project at the request of Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th.

Murray Hill Road is in Feaga's district. He said property owners on both sides of the road opposed the widening. He also said Murray Hillwas one of the few "scenic roads" in the county.

Darrel Drown, R-2nd, and council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, supported Feaga's motion "reluctantly." Gray said deleting roads may lead to the short-term survival of some politicians, but creates problems for their successors.

Only $36,000 for planning and engineering was to have been appropriated for the Murray Hill project this year. The remaining $1.7 million deleted by the council was divided between the fiscal 1993 and 1994 budgets.

Now that Route 216 appears doomed and Murray Hill will remain untouched, the only alternative is to tell the state the county's new priority is to add lanes on Route 32 from U.S. 29 to I-95, Irvin said. That section of Route 32 is already a four-lane divided highway.

"From our perspective," Irvin said, construction of Route 100 as a two-lane highway from U.S. 29 to I-95, and constructionof two more lanes on Route 32 from Pindell School Road to Route 108are the county's other "most critical" needs. "They are needed within the next five years. Otherwise, the wheels come off."

The demiseof Route 216 was one of several negative reports on county road construction Irvin shared with the council.

Not only will the county have to spend at least $17 million a year "on average" for the next 17 years to help the state complete 13 county projects on a 50-50 costsharing, but the state might not be able to pick up its half for another two years, Irvin said.

The lack of state funds is so acute that the council tentatively approved $8.7 million to "forward fund" state road projects in the fiscal 1992 budget. Forward funding means the county pays now in hopes the state will refund the money later.

The implication of not committing future money to state roads "is just terrible," Irvin said. "Minor tuneups can buy us five years." Afterthat, the roads fail.

In addition to the $478 million needed for the state road projects, another $100 million will be needed for improvements to seven state interchanges, Irvin said.

Money also is needed for non-state roads. The county must spend $80 million for six of its roads and one intersection in the next 17 years, Irvin said.

When $280 million in needed school projects over the next decade arefigured in, the future capital budget picture is bleak.

Capital projects for some departments may be put on hold indefinitely.

An indefinite deferral of other capital projects would be especially harsh on the Recreation and Parks Department. The department is looking to complete $52 million in projects over the next five years.

The council nevertheless tentatively approved $68.7 million of the $102 million capital budget County Executive Charles I. Ecker proposed for fiscal 1992.

Only the Murray Hill road project was deleted during the council's straw votes on the non-education portion of the budget.

However, a $750,000 project to assist the state in acquiring 32 acres of park land along the Sucker Branch tributary of the Patapsco River appears to be "unraveling," the council was told.

The council deferred taking a straw vote on the park land and a $2.1 million Recreation and Park Department service facility until May 14.

The council will meet tonight to consider Board of Education and Howard Community College requests of $30.7 million in the capital budget and $154.6 million in the operating budget.

The council will vote officially May 23 to set the tax rate and approve the fiscal 1992 capital andoperating budgets. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

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