Several projects to upgrade streets and add safety features to local roadways are included in the city's $4.2 million Capital Improvement Program budget for 2014. The CIP budget was introduced at the Feb. 11 City Council meeting and is expected to be approved by council members at the next meeting on Feb. 25.
The CIP is funded through local dollars, bonds and non-local money in the form of federal and state grants.
Laurel Public Works Department Director Paul McCullagh described plans for major road work on Bowie Road, at the CSX railroad underpass, as one of the CIP's most important projects because of the safety improvements that will be realized when it is completed.
According to McCullagh, city officials want to make several changes to that section of Bowie Road (also near the Laurel Rescue Squad) to make it safer for pedestrians who use it frequently.
"Over 1,000 people go under it (the underpass) by foot and there is no safe sidewalk under the tracks for them to use," he said. "Moms with children use it and lots of people from the nearby apartment complex use it to get to stores. There have been a lot of close calls there."
Two-way traffic is allowed on the road currently. Vehicles would continue to be able to use the underpass in both directions, but plans call for a signal light to be installed to control traffic in the same way it is done at the Main and Lafayette streets underpass by the MARC station.
"There would be traffic going in only one direction at a time with vehicles having to wait for a green light to go through," McCullagh said. "With the traffic having to take turns and going either east or west at a time, that will give us the extra space we need there to build sidewalks for pedestrians. We want to build a curb and a four-foot sidewalk so pedestrians can walk safely; but with two-way traffic, there was not enough room to do it safely."
The city does not have the authority to widen the underpass, because it falls under CSX's jurisdiction. McCullagh says because CSX does not normally fund projects of this nature, the city decided to make that portion of Bowie Road safer with the proposed modifications.
The project would take about two months to complete and cost $360,000. The CIP budget includes a request for half of that amount coming from the city and the remainder from Prince George's County officials.
"We have no guarantee that the county will approve the funding, but I'll keep pursuing it because this is an important project. If the county doesn't give us the funds, I will look at other sources," McCullagh said. "We can use the city's portion to get the signal put in and without county funds, we will have to wait on the sidewalks."
New mall traffic light
Two other sizable road projects are planned for the Route 1 corridor. If the CIP budget is approved, road construction to the tune of more than $1.5 million will be done along Route 1, with the city only paying for $32,000 of the cost. According to McCullagh, Walgreens Drug Store officials will foot most of the bill for handicap ramps and pedestrian cross signals at the intersection of Route 1 and Route 198, where he said there are currently no pedestrian signals.
Additional improvements will be made on Cherry Lane at Route 1 near the Towne Centre at Laurel mall that's under construction. A new intersection is planned at Laurel Place and Cherry Lane that will allow vehicles to access the mall by crossing Cherry Lane.
"Now if you turn right when you leave Olive Garden, you can only turn right when you get to Cherry Lane. There will be a signal light installed there to allow vehicles to go straight across Cherry Lane into the mall," McCullagh said.
That work, which will cost about $3 million before it is completed, is being funded mainly by the mall's developers.
The 2014 CIP budget also includes nearly $275,000 in funds for asphalt, sidewalk, curb, milling and gutter repairs on Montgomery Street from Second to Fourth streets and from 10th Street to Patuxent Road.
Another larger item in the CIP is funding for city vehicle purchases. More than $481,000 is being requested to buy five vehicles for the Laurel Police Department and numerous other vehicles for a variety of other city agencies.
There are also many smaller items in the budget, such as funds to replace windows at the Anderson-Murphy Community Center; other street, bridge and sidewalk repairs; and maintenance of city buildings.
The city's share of the CIP budget comes to about $1.5 million, with $190,000 of that amount being carried over from last year. Other city funding sources include general operating budget dollars, the 2011 bond sale money and $302,000 from money collected in traffic camera fines. If approved, the 2014 CIP kicks in on July 1.