Governor commits state funds to help rebuild 3 intersections He says aid possible to buy Smith farm

January 20, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth and Craig Timberg | Dana Hedgpeth and Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening committed tens of millions of state dollars yesterday to help rebuild three congested Howard County intersections and said he may approve millions more to help turn Columbia's Smith farm into a park.

Getting the money for the intersections has been expected since last week. But no one has been sure about possible state funds for the Smith farm, a 300-acre parcel of undeveloped land in the heart of Columbia that became available with the death of its reclusive owner a year ago.

The governor made the announcements at a news conference at one of the targeted intersections -- Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway in east Columbia.

Glendening said the state's Program Open Space is the most likely source of funds for at least a portion of the estimated $8 million cost of the Smith farm. He said he plans to decide by the end of the legislative session in early April.

"We hope to have an announcement sometime in the near future," Glendening said. "I understand the importance, and I'm optimistic that we can work something out. I think we're going to be successful."

Glendening's comments on the Smith farm are the most encouraging to date, say community leaders hoping for $4 million in state aid to pay for half the estimated value of the farmland. The heirs have not announced their plans for the property.

"Both the money for the road and money for the Smith farm are critical to the quality of life in Howard County," said Joan Lancos, a county Planning Board member.

[The] Route 175 interchange is to improve the flow of traffic and the quality of life during rush hour. Getting the Smith farm will provide quality of life after rush hour."

Half the cost is exactly what County Executive Charles I. Ecker had been seeking from the state for the three intersections. Yesterday's announcement confirms that is what he got.

In total, up to $85 million will be spent reconstructing the three intersections: Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway, U.S. 29 and Route 216, and U.S. 29 and Johns Hopkins and Gorman roads.

The announcement also marks a political success for Republican Ecker, who is running for governor.

Ecker had promised to pay for half the costs of improvements to the Route 175 intersection in east Columbia. But by waiting, he got the state to split the costs of not just the Route 175 interchange, but also of the two interchanges in the southern portion of the county -- improvements that are expected to pave the way for further development.

"[Ecker] held the Route 175 and Snowden River, a much-needed interchange, hostage in order to get the roads [U.S. 29 and Route 216 intersections] he wanted for development," said Democratic state Del. Elizabeth Bobo.

State officials expect the three interchanges to be completed in the next five years.

The Snowden River overpass will be first, scheduled for completion next year. The U.S. 29 and Route 216 intersection is to be completed in 2002. No date has been set for construction of the U.S. 29 and Johns Hopkins and Gorman roads interchange.

"With this funding and with the understanding we've reached with the executive these three much-needed interchanges will be built," Glendening said yesterday.

The deal Glendening and Ecker negotiated over the last several months calls for the state to eventually pay half the costs, but for the county to put up its money first.

Ecker said the county will pay the entire $16 million for the Snowden River and Route 175 intersection. The state and county will split the $23.4 million cost of U.S. 29 and Route 216. And the state, said Ecker, will pick up most of the tab for the U.S. 29 intersection with Johns Hopkins and Gorman roads, which does not have a firm price tag.

By the time all three intersections are built, Ecker said, the state will have paid about $40 million and the county will have paid $44 million.

In the southern portion of the county, slow-growth supporters see the funding of the two U.S. 29 interchanges as the gateway to increased development that would overcrowd their schools and roads. The interchanges sit within a five-mile radius of some of the county's most controversial proposed developments that could bring more than 3,600 homes into the area.

But there are no objections to the overpass planned for Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway.

The intersection is controlled by traffic lights, and motorists often face long delays there at rush hour. "[The Route 175 and Snowden River interchange] is a grade F and getting worse," said Wanda Hurt, a Columbia Council member from Owen Brown.

The improvements to the interchanges are expected to help the cause of turning the nearby Smith farm -- zoned for agriculture -- into a park that could attract thousands of people and cars to the area.

Since Elizabeth C. "Nancy" Smith died, dozens of community activists and politicians have been scrambling to acquire the property, also coveted by developers.

Democratic County Councilman C. Vernon Gray says he will meet with the governor next week to confirm when and from what sources any state funding will come.

It remains uncertain what Smith's heirs plan to do with the property.

Carolyn Smith of Baltimore, one of the heirs, was asked yesterday what she thought of the governor's latest proposal. "I know nothing of that," she said. "We are not sure of our plans."

Pub Date: 1/20/98

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