Funding for roads concerns activists Slow-growth backers say money will spur development

January 15, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Craig Timberg and Tom Pelton contributed to this article.

State money that will pay for half of the construction costs for three major intersections in Howard County is expected to pave the way for development in the southern portion of the county.

While there was universal celebration at the news Gov. Parris N. Glendening is expected to announce state funds for an overpass at Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway in east Columbia, some were dismayed that he will also include money for improvements to two other intersections.

Both of those are along U.S. 29 in southern Howard, one at Route 216, the other at Johns Hopkins Road.

They sit within a five-mile radius of some of the county's most controversial proposed developments -- three communities of homes and commercial offices that could bring more than 3,600 homes into the Scaggsville area, beginning in the next three years.

Some contend that the intersections -- already overburdened by commuters headed for jobs in Washington and Baltimore -- are overdue for overhaul.

But others fear that improving them will remove a major roadblock in the way of these developments, helping to turn what was once a rural area of the county into a mini-Columbia.

"Snowden River is very much needed," said Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Howard County Democrat. "But we would have preferred for [Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker] to keep his promise for the county to pay for it all rather than hold it hostage in order to get money for the other interchanges that will only breed development."

Glendening is expected to announce the state contribution Monday at a news conference at the intersection of Route 175 and Snowden River.

Other counties to benefit

Though his office will not confirm the exact money amounts, state officials and representatives say Howard is among the five counties receiving large additions to their road budgets.

Other counties expected to get funds for roads include:

Anne Arundel County, which will probably get about $18 million from the state to widen Route 2 south of Annapolis from Virginia Avenue south to Pike Ridge Road, according to state Del. Phillip D. Bissett, an Anne Arundel Republican from Mayo.

Montgomery County, which will get $15 million for four road projects, including building a garage at the Shady Grove metro station, according to a Montgomery County source.

Earlier this week, the governor gave Southern Maryland an additional $21.8 million to improve the St. Mary's County Airport and several local roads in St. Mary's, Calvert and Charles counties.

Howard's share is considered a political victory by those who have been lobbying for the state money since October when Ecker announced that the county would pay half the costs.

"We've been begging, pleading and cajoling for years to get these intersections to come," said Darrel E. Drown, an Ellicott City Republican. "It is truly critical to have them. I don't know if it was political expedience that got us the money, or what. I'm just happy we're getting it."

More growth feared

But southern Howard slow-growth activists -- who were essentially hoping that the state's delay in matching the county funds would stall development -- see the U.S. 29 improvements as opening the door for developers.

"I'm really disappointed and really dismayed that the state is funding these intersections," said Peter Oswald, a slow-growth supporter, whose main complaint is that the county agreed to pay for many of the costs.

"There is a need to improve these intersections," he said. "But when you get the county paying for roads that the state would eventually fund, you get accelerated growth. If roads were the answer, Los Angeles would be heaven."

Raymond S. Wacks, the county budget director, said it is not surprising that people had varied reactions to the proposed improvements.

"Roads aren't built for people who live next to them. They are built for people who pass by them," he said.

Joseph W. Rutter Jr., the county's planning director, said, "The growth for that area is already planned and it will still come."

He disputed those who argue that the new intersections will bring more residential growth -- which is a drain on the county coffers -- instead of the commercial growth that subsidizes education, police and other costs.

"Now, we'll get more balanced growth between employment and residential," he said of the improved intersections. "If that means the Columbiazation of the southern end, good."

But Mike Replogle of the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington said: "The more you do these improved intersections, the more people realize they can live a little further out, buy a little cheaper house and drive the little extra distance to work."

Cost is about $85 million

Jim Irvin, the county's public works director, now estimates the total cost of the three projects at close to $85 million -- $16 million for the overpass at Snowden River Parkway, $30 million for an overpass at U.S. 29 and Route 216 and $38 million for improvements to U.S. 29 and Johns Hopkins Road. Construction could take at least three years.

"It certainly is the largest roads project the county and state has ever done," Wacks said.

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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