State road funds sought County wants help with three clogged intersections

'Their responsibility'

Money not included in Md. plan for highways next year

October 24, 1997|By Dan Morse and Edward Lee | Dan Morse and Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Howard County officials asked the Transportation Department last night for up to $30 million to help improve three clogged intersections, money that county officials learned recently was not in the state highway plan for next year.

"They are state roads, and we feel it is their responsibility to build them or participate in helping to build them," said Carl Balser, chief of transportation for the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning.

Balser and other county officials met with state transportation officials last night to discuss the state's draft highway budget, which leaves three key intersections in Howard County -- Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway, U.S. 29 and Route 216, and U.S. 29 and Johns Hopkins Road -- with no state construction funds during the fiscal year that begins in 1998.

State and county officials noted that the budget was only a draft and that the budget process is young.

"I'm the eternal optimist," said Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker. "I think the state will live up to its responsibility."

Howard officials had offered this year to pay half of the approximately $60 million cost of the improvements. In recent months, county and state officials have come "very close" to reaching such an agreement, Balser said.

Ecker said yesterday that there was an 80 percent chance the state would provide funds.

Howard was undoubtedly not the only jurisdiction disappointed with the proposed highway budget. The Transportation Department's $4.6 billion capital budget plan contains very few new projects anywhere in the state, said Chuck Brown, an

administration spokesman.

In previous years, Gov. Parris N. Glendening has added as much as $511 million to the initial roads budget -- money that can pay for projects that were left out -- but Brown expected the total to be smaller this year.

In neighborhoods around the intersections, community activists' reaction to the state's draft plan varied.

Columbia residents were upset at what they said was another tactic to stall construction of a coveted overpass at Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway, an intersection west of Interstate 95 that is controlled by traffic lights and often is backed up, particularly during rush hour.

"It's just awful. It's a mess," said Kathryn Mann, who works at the Long Reach village association and is president of the Howard County Citizens Association.

In previous years, Ecker had put the entire cost of construction of an overpass in his county budgets, but the money was never spent.

Last year, a task force that studied the intersection called for an overpass. County and state officials said to wait at least until the opening of Route 100 to the north, which could happen as soon as summer and might relieve congestion along Route 175.

"I feel as if the whole time was wasted," said Sara Uphouse, a citizen member of the task force.

In the southern part of the county, activists expressed hope that the delay of the overpasses along U.S. 29 would slow development and its associated traffic.

"We are thrilled by this," said Peter J. Oswald, a slow-growth activist from Fulton. Many residents in the affected part of the county are wary of three proposed mixed-use communities that could result in the construction of more than 3,600 homes within five miles of U.S. 29 and Route 216.

Alton J. Scavo, senior vice president of the Rouse Co. -- which wants to build a 1,395-home Columbia-style village on 517 acres within that radius -- said he doesn't see a link between his company's project and improvements along U.S. 29.

"The [Interstate] 95-216 interchange is our portal to the outside world," Scavo said of the Rouse project, which would straddle I-95. "If our property was located between 29 and 95, then I would say that the interchange is significant."

Scavo said the lack of funding in the state's draft budget could be a signal that a compromise is on the way.

L "I think this may be the beginnings of a dance," Scavo said.

Pub Date: 10/24/97

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