Project's goal is beauty, less beggars on U.S. 40

State plans to landscape 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 area's busiest intersections, the State Highway Administration plans to landscape the median 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 Route 40, which is flanked by shopping centers and car dealerships, the state has been making improvements, laying sidewalks as part of another program.

The new additions would include lighting and intersection improvements, and 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 gain funding 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 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 route. Police cannot chase panhandlers away if they remain on the median and don't interfere with traffic.

Occasionally, organized fund-raising efforts cause a problem. Conflicts arose last year 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."

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.

"We really need the partnership with the businesses if this is going to work," Smith said.

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