The aim in Columbia is to make the U.S. 29 footbridge safer for residents to use

Seeking to change span's shaky image

December 16, 2005|By TYRONE RICHARDSON | TYRONE RICHARDSON,SUN REPORTER

The bridge is sound. Its image, however, is a little shaky.

In years past, the concrete footbridge that spans U.S. 29 connecting Oakland Mills and Town Center was a destination for village residents traveling to Lake Kittamaqundi and The Mall in Columbia.

"That pathway was the gem in the community, and when people first moved here, they used it a lot," said Sandy Cederbaum, Oakland Mills village manager. "Now, it is not used as often."

Bill Woodcock, chairman of the Oakland Mills Village Board, said: "It is underutilized, and it's something that our residents can use to get to Town Center. Because the pathway has some sharp elevation drops, blind spots and the footbridge does not seem welcoming to the eye, it does not get used as much."

Cederbaum called the bridge "an asset to our community," and she and other officials want residents to feel good about using the bridge that has been labeled as an area for loitering and crime.

Village officials want to add pavement, improve lighting, and prune trees and shrubs.

In addition to making the footbridge safer, Cederbaum said the goal is to make the entire pathway leading to the overpass safer, as well. The trail leading to the footbridge runs through a wooded area and through the rear of the Tor apartment complex in the 5700 block of Stevens Forest Road.

In 1999, two Columbia teenagers were shot and killed on the footpath behind the complex. The shootings are unsolved.

This week, the bridge was coated with patches of ice, and a few empty beer cans and other debris were evident. Vulgarities were spray-painted on the span's floor.

Police say the footpath has been safer since the deployment of a community officer in the village and a satellite police office in Oakland Mills Village Center.

"Statistics showed crime significantly dropped," said Pfc. Jennifer Reidy, a spokeswoman for the Howard County Police Department. "Statistics showed crime significantly dropped."

Oakland Mills officials want to increase awareness of the bridge and its location. They have led tours to familiarize residents with the pathway and bridge.

"We are trying to encourage people to use the footbridge again," said Karen Gray, chairwoman of the Oakland Mills Revitalization Committee and vice chairwoman of the village board.

Gray said plans for increased lighting and other safety appointments have not been fully developed. She said details will be finalized in the coming months.

Gray testified this month before County Executive James N. Robey during a recent public budget hearing and asked for funds to make the footpath and bridge more attractive.

"They have to add things like security and lighting," said east Columbia Councilman David A. Rakes, who toured the bridge and path in the summer.

Town Center leaders said that they want to see the footbridge used more and that they plan to advocate making improvements during a budget hearing next month before Columbia Association board.

"We fully agree with Oakland Mills that it is an important passage between the two sides of Columbia, and we need to do whatever we can to make it more usable and safe," said Patricia Laidig, village manager for Town Center.

tyrone.richardson@baltsun.com

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