West St. plan to cost about $13 million But city officials still aren't sure where money will be found

'Fairy-tale funding' noted

Public can see design for traffic circle at council meeting today

March 03, 1997|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

In a meeting about an elaborate plan to revitalize Inner West Street in October, Annapolis Alderman Louise Hammond asked her colleagues, "What is it going to cost and how the heck are we going to pay for it?"

Five months later, city officials have answered the Ward 1 Democrat's first question.

The project will cost about $13 million, including improvements to seven blocks of West Street and construction of a traffic circle at West Street and Taylor Avenue.

But with work on the circle starting in October, city officials are no closer to answering Hammond's second, even more important question.

"Land acquisition and engineering cost for the traffic circle is completely taken care of and construction costs will be [included] in our next bond sale," said M. Kathleen Sulick, city finance director.

"But, I don't see any changes in funding for the rest of the project right now," Sulick said.

The city was scrambling for money even before the council unanimously approved a design for the $12 million-to-$13-million project.

The project includes a $4.9 million traffic circle. Improvements to sidewalks, roads, streetlights and underground utilities on the stretch of West Street from Taylor to Church Circle, could cost about $8 million.

Sulick says Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins has met with Anne Arundel County and state officials, who "have expressed interest in helping, but nothing is final."

City council members could also allocate more money to the project when the mayor releases his new spending plan this year, Sulick said.

Other city officials have said grants could provide funding, or the council could create a special assessment district that would generate additional tax revenue.

One city official close to the project, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, called these funding proposals "fairy-tale funding" and said it is "highly unlikely the city has the money to do what it wants to do."

The official also said: "There's so much publicity on this project and so much public attention that the city council is promising to do everything. But the city really can't afford it."

At a council hearing tonight, the public will have its first opportunity to see plans for the traffic circle designed by Hurst-Rosche Engineers Inc., design consultants from Cockeysville.

The circle, really a 110-foot-by-85-foot ellipse, is an elaborate two-lane affair with four streets leading into it: Taylor Avenue, Spa Road and eastbound and westbound West Street. Details -- the kind of sidewalks, brick and lighting system -- remain undecided, said Joseph A. Baker, chief of the city Bureau of Engineering and Construction.

The cost of moving utilities underground and improving water mains around the circle -- two of which are more than 100 years old -- is about $2 million, Baker said. About $800,000 -- of the $1 million set aside -- has been spent on the land needed for the circle, Baker said.

The remaining $1.9 million will be used for design, construction and inspection fees.

As for the rest of West Street, no plan has been set, Baker said.

"We are only beginning to select design consultants for the other part of the project," Baker said. "There is no start date yet."

Residents and business owners along ailing West Street -- lined with empty lots and vacant stores -- are watching intently.

"I'm a little disappointed that the finances are not real clear, but that's not anything new," said Jim Martin, owner of Free State Press on West Street. "I've been here 24 years, and I've seen a lot of changes on this street.

"These things don't happen overnight," he said. "I don't see [money] as a major problem right now, but when we have a clear vision of what we want and where we're going, then it'll be very important."

Pub Date: 3/03/97

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