Catonsville road project aimed at beautification, panhandlers

State plans landscaping on Baltimore National Pike

June 01, 1999|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Hoping to put a stop to panhandling and to beautify one of the Baltimore area's busiest intersections, the State Highway Administration plans to landscape the median strip of Baltimore National Pike at Rolling Road, part of $300,000 in improvements to the commercial corridor through Catonsville.

"The panhandling has gotten to the point where something has got to be done," said Baltimore County Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat.

For several years, Moxley has tried to craft a local ordinance that would prohibit beggars from standing at county intersections and asking for money, but his efforts have been stymied by free-speech concerns. A similar measure by state Del. John S. Arnick, a Dundalk Democrat, failed in this year's General Assembly.

The Highway Administration plans to redo the median, creating a slope and installing plantings to make it uncomfortable for people to stand there.

The state and the county have stressed the need to revitalize older neighborhoods such as Catonsville with street and landscaping improvements. About a mile away from the Rolling Road intersection, crews are putting in new sidewalks along Frederick Road as part of a revitalization project in downtown Catonsville.

On U.S. 40, which is flanked by shopping centers and car dealerships, the state has been making improvements, putting in sidewalks as part of another program.

The new improvements would include additional lighting and intersection improvements as well as the median strip upgrades from Rolling Road west to Geipe Road.

"The median strip all along that strip is ugly," said state Del. Thomas E. Dewberry, a Catonsville Democrat, who worked with state Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, to win money for the improvements.

For several weeks, state highway crews have been taking their proposals to Catonsville neighborhood groups. Work could begin in the fall or next spring, said highway spokesman Dave Buck. The state also is considering improvements east of the Baltimore Beltway, but those have not been funded.

In addition to improving the median on U.S. 40, the state is asking the county to contribute funds to improve the medians on county-owned Rolling Road, where panhandlers often stand.

In recent years, a number of businesses have moved to the area, prompting renovations of shopping centers along the road. Police have been unable to chase panhandlers away if they remain on the median and don't interfere with traffic.

Occasionally, fund-raising organizations cause a problem, as happened last year when conflicts arose between volunteers raising money for the Catonsville Fourth of July celebration and members of a youth basketball team, Moxley said.

"We either have to put up with the panhandlers or get rid of everyone," said Maureen Sweeney Smith, director of the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce. "I think this may be a concession the other groups have to make."

Mary Sites, chairwoman of the Catonsville Celebration Committee, which raises money for the July Fourth parade and fireworks, said volunteers solicit money at the intersection but would be willing to move.

"Our groups don't want to cause any kind of distraction," she said, adding that they support the intersection improvements.

Smith said that once the beautification work is complete, businesses must be willing to take part in maintaining the landscaping to keep the area attractive.

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