Howard County community leaders last night urged the County Council to jump start plans to rebuild a congested Columbia intersection that County Executive Charles I. Ecker has allowed to languish.
Cecilia Januszkiewicz, newly elected to represent Long Reach village on the Columbia Council, reminded the County Council of Ecker's on-again, off-again commitment to build an overpass at Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway.
"Not a spade of dirt has been turned to convert the promise of a grade-separated interchange into reality," Januszkiewicz said. "Instead, the county executive has led the community on an odyssey that resembles Dorothy's journey to see the wizard."
Last night was the public hearing on most aspects of Ecker's proposed capital budget, a $92.7 million plan for major projects in the 12 months beginning July 1. The council will review and possibly change the capital budget and a separate budget for operating expenses before adopting them by late next month .
The public hearing on the schools portion of Ecker's capital budget will be held May 12.
In his capital budget, Ecker proposed building the $16 million overpass at the Route 175 intersection, but only if the state agrees to pay half the cost of that intersection and two others on U.S. 29 totaling at least $20 million.
Ecker and state highway officials have expressed confidence about such a deal, but it was not enough to placate Januszkiewicz and Kathryn Mann, of the Howard County Citizens Association.
Mann urged the council to move forward on the Columbia intersection, but she criticized plans to build the two overpasses on U.S. 29 at its intersections with Route 216 and Johns Hopkins Road.
"The only reason for railroading these projects through is to subsidize residential development in large, open farmland parcels adjacent to these interchanges," Mann said. "This $20 million is nothing more than an early Christmas present to the owners and developers of large tracts in southern Howard County."
Also last night, neighbors of the planned Holiday Hills/Riverside Park, southwest of the intersection of U.S. 29 and Route 32 urged the council to complete the park.
County officials have planned the park since the late 1980s. Ecker has proposed spending $135,000 in new county borrowing to begin construction next year. The total cost of the park would be $790,00, including state aid and earlier funding from the county.
"We've been waiting so long," said Stephanie Cates-Harman, a nearby resident. "Many of the children who were originally going to use this park are getting ready to go to college."
Recreation and Parks Director Jeffrey Bourne said the design of the park is done. He said that unless the County Council cuts its funding, park construction could begin next spring and it could open in 1999.