Sykesville project's funding rethought

State officials' delay for Ehrlich's input occurs days before town meeting

January 14, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Days before a long-anticipated town meeting on the renovation of Sykesville's Main Street, the state is wavering on its support for the project.

With Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. set to take office tomorrow, state officials are reconsidering their offer to pay for improved lighting, better sidewalks and other enhancements to Main Street, which is part of state Route 851. Although no firm cost has been attached to the plan, in its early stages, the improvements are expected to cost several million dollars.

"We have asked for a delay to allow the new administration to look at all the transportation projects and present its own budget," Erin Henson, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Transportation, said yesterday.

Transportation officials are reviewing every aspect of the budget and have made no final decisions, Henson said.

Sykesville officials have scheduled a meeting on Main Street for tomorrow and cannot cancel on such short notice, they said.

"We have spent a lot of time and effort on this and we are going ahead with the meeting," said Matthew H. Candland, town manager. "At this point, it is too late to cancel."

Fliers announcing the meeting were mailed several weeks ago to residents of the town of 4,500. The idea was to gather input on the concept plan for green spaces and other improvements to the entrances to the town.

The state informed town officials of its change of heart in a letter received Friday.

"Given current fiscal uncertainties, we believe that it is prudent to delay this meeting until we have a better handle on the funding situation before proceeding with further meetings on the project," wrote Kirk G. McClelland, director of highway development.

For two and a half years, Sykesville has worked with the State Highway Administration to plan the Main Street improvements. The state offered to pay for those upgrades. then transfer ownership of the one-mile segment of the highway, with responsibility for its maintenance, to the town.

McClelland said that the state's technical assistance would be available for the meeting, set for 7 p.m. tomorrow at Beck's Restaurant on Main Street. But, without state financing, the plan is unlikely to get off the drawing board.

The SHA first described its beautification program, with slides of other towns that have undergone similar renovation efforts, to Sykesville residents in May 2000. The idea was received with enthusiasm.

Mayor Jonathan S. Herman appointed a task force of town leaders and residents to work with the state. Together they made plans to create a thriving marketplace attractive to residents and visitors.

The work would involve the stretch of highway from the bridge spanning the Patapsco River to Springfield Avenue and Route 32. Officials estimated maintenance costs would be minimal for several years, given the extent of the proposed improvements.

The state also would pay the town annual highway user fees, money that would be held in the capital improvements fund until repairs became necessary.

"We are hoping this is only postponed, not canceled, because the state budget is in such a mess," said Candland, the town manager. "We had a good group that really tackled every detail of this project. They will all be disappointed."

Councilman Mark Rychwalski, task force chairman, said he has no intention of halting the planning process.

"The way the state budget is now this can happen at any time to any plan," Rychwalski said. "I am disappointed this happened to us so late in the process, but I am hopeful the funds will become available."

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