County weighs shifting funds

Money for local projects would go to larger roads

Improvements to Routes 26, 32

If officials offer $4 million, state might finish work

South Carroll

September 29, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The county commissioners are considering shifting about $4 million from local road projects in South Carroll to pay the initial cost of several highway improvements in the area, hoping their contribution could help persuade the state to complete the projects.

"The state has said that if we put up money, we will get these roads," Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said yesterday. "They are more than willing to work with us."

The board would switch its focus from local roads to planning and engineering for the Route 26 and Route 32 corridors and the intersection of the two highways.

"How many people will benefit from the side roads compared to using those dollars for state roads?" Gouge asked.

County planners have selected three areas in Eldersburg where joint funding efforts could move projects along. Those include the intersection of Routes 26 and 32, the intersection of Route 32 and Macbeth Way and the Route 26 corridor from Route 32 east to Carroll Highlands, a 2.5-mile stretch that serves as Eldersburg's main street.

"We have got to show initiative or we will be the stepchild behind the door," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich.

The county and state have cooperated on a $400,000 corridor improvement study that resulted in a $25 million plan to build service roads, a median, sidewalks and landscaping along Route 26 in Eldersburg. The next phase - design and engineering - would cost the county about $3.5 million. The state has made no commitment to building the project, but without preliminary designs, it would not be a priority, said Steven Horn, county director of planning.

"We need to move to the design phase," Horn told the commissioners. "There is still no state commitment to construction. But the design is part of the dance."

He also recommended combining work on the two intersections on Route 32, so that signals - the state is recommending one at Macbeth Way - could be synchronized and traffic flow improved on the 0.3-mile segment that runs from Route 26 south to Macbeth Way. Lane improvements also must be included, and designing those would cost about $500,000, Horn said.

"We could borrow money from local roads for these three projects and get a bigger bang for the buck," said Horn.

Horn, who will meet with state highway officials next week, said he would convey the commissioners' commitment to the projects. The state should at least consider phased-in construction of improvements that will enhance traffic flow and safety, Gouge said.

"It's very clear that the state looks very favorably on local participation in light of allocating construction dollars," said Steven D. Powell, the commissioners' chief of staff. "Where local jurisdictions participate and prepare the soil, the state will come in and plant the seeds. If we have the studies ready, the state will come in more quickly with construction money."

The improvements also could benefit county efforts to expand its industrial base, which at 12 percent is the lowest in the metropolitan area, Powell said. Industrial land is available for development in Eldersburg near the highways.

"We need to get people there and out by making these roads more amenable to traffic," Powell said. "Raising the industrial base is crucial so the residents are not responsible for all the infrastructure improvements."

Ted Zaleski, county director of management and budget, said the suggested improvements could cost well beyond the estimates.

"You have to decide philosophically on the role you want to play in funding state roads," he said. "Some counties have made this decision in a big way, but we have no stream of revenue. We would have to take money from something else."

Minnich said, "We have to be needs-based and go as far as we can without bankrupting people on fixed incomes."

The planning staff also presented the commissioners with the initial draft of the annual letter to the state that prioritizes roads. The $70 million Hampstead bypass, to which the state has committed construction funds, remains at the top of the list, followed by the Route 26 corridor improvements. The board deferred its decision on the letter until after Horn's meeting with highway officials.

"We have to have a project ready to move to the construction phase, and after Hampstead that's just not there," said Powell.

State officials presented the commissioners yesterday with preliminary designs for the 4.5-mile bypass. The project will go out to bid next spring.

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