While nearby protesters decried what they said was environmental harm done in the name of road improvements, Gov. William Donald Schaefer stood in the middle of Rowe Boulevard Saturday and unveiled a new public-private highway beautification program.
The governor also announced that U.S. 50, site of an eight-year project to upgrade the road to interstate standards, will now be called the "Capital Corridor," a showcase route between Washington and Annapolis.
Speaking in a tent near the newly improved U.S. 50 interchange, Schaefer and other state and county officials praised efforts to spruce up roadways and make traveling between the two capitals more attractive. To make way for the ceremony, Rowe Boulevard between U.S. 50 and Bestgate Road was closed from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m.
"Gov. Schaefer told us a year-and-a-half ago that he wanted us to do something different with this particular project," said O. James Lighthizer, state secretary of transportation. "He didn't want us to just lay down concrete and cut down as many trees as you possibly could, but to make it beautiful."
Lighthizer, while admitting the U.S. 50 project and the new interchange was "justifiably controversial," said "it had to be done. It is responsive to what the citizens wanted and [an] environmentally responsible project."
Said Annapolis Mayor Alfred Hopkins, "We're trying to use this hTC land for the good of those who want to move between the two capital cities, and at the same time not ignore the good earth."
But a small group of protesters said the ceremony was nothing more than a public relations party so politicians could praise each other while, at the same time, pour tax money into projects that will damage the environment.
The protesters, from Citizens For A Scenic Severn River Bridge, quietly held up banners and signs during the speeches and handed out literature touting public transportation as an alternative to building new roads. The group was formed last year to fight plans for a new, much larger span to replace the Old Severn River bridge taking Route 450 into Annapolis.
"They are celebrating the paveication of Annapolis and the Chesapeake Bay," said Paul Foer, who lives in Annapolis. "They take five steps forward to improve the bay and then take 10 steps backward and build new roads.
"This is an obscene burlesque celebration of politicians patting themselves on the back and planting a few trees and saying, 'Isn't it wonderful what we've done.' "
One protester held a sign saying, "Beautification cannot cover up the destruction of Route 50."
Schaefer, in his speech, acknowledged the protesters and even answered Jim Vance, who shouted out during the governor's talk.
"There's a young man back there that gave me a long lecture, and I've been in office longer than his age," Schaefer shot back.
"I agree with you," the governor told the protesters. "No more roads. You want mass transit, take your signs and change them a just a little bit and go to Congress and say, 'What we want is mass transit.' Stand out in front of members of Congress and tell them and I'll be right there with you with a sign, 'You help us pay for it, and we'll build it.' "
In the meantime, Schaefer said he is committed to beautifying the roads the state already has.
The partnership, called the Cloverleaf Program, will solicit private money for landscaping projects. Already, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Greiner Engineering and Richardson, Myers and Donofrio Advertising have given a total of $50,000.
The Rowe Boulevard-U.S. 50 interchange was the first area to be landscaped as part of the Cloverleaf Program.
The highway's upgrading and the interchange complete eight years of construction started when Lighthizer was county executive.
"I've been watching this interchange with great interest," said County Executive Robert R. Neall. "When it was naked under construction, it was hard to imagine what it was going to look like. But I think the trees and the shrubs and the flowers . . . if it ever gets warm enough to encourage things to come out, it really is going to be beautiful."