Bel Air officials consider projects for extra highway funds windfall

With about $200,000 more in Highway User Revenues coming back from the state than they anticipated, Bel Air officials discussed Wednesday a variety of projects the extra money could be used for in the coming fiscal year.

One project at the top of the list is a study of what measures could be taken to improve one of the town's busiest intersections, Route 1 and Route 24.

Town Administrator Chris Schlehr said during a town work session on the Fiscal Year 2013-2014 budget that he had been meeting with Harford County officials and discussing the prospect of applying to the Baltimore Metropolitan Council for funding to do a study of the intersection.

"Before anything gets done, the State Highway [Administration]'s going to want to see a study," he told town commissioners.

The Baltimore Metropolitan Council, which serves as a Metropolitan Planning Organization for Baltimore, Baltimore County, plus Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties, would fund the study on an "80-20" basis, with the town responsible for 20 percent of the cost, Schlehr explained.

"You have to alleviate some of the traffic or figure out how to get [drivers] through there more efficiently," Schlehr said after the meeting.

He estimated tens of thousands of vehicles come through the Route 1/Route 24 intersection each day. The highway crossing is a hub of commercial, retail and restaurant traffic, with the Harford Mall and the Bel Air Plaza shopping center diagonally across the intersection from each other.

"It's just a concern and we want to get a study done... and come up with some short-term solutions and hopefully some long-term solutions," Schlehr said.

Counties and municipalities typically receive a portion of Highway User Revenues from the state, which collects them from the registration fees paid by Maryland drivers. The funds are meant for state and local transportation improvements, but the allocations provided to counties and municipalities have decreased in recent years as state leaders have transferred more revenues to other areas of their budget.

The extra $200,000 was a pleasant surprise for Bel Air officials. Schlehr said county leaders were "sympathetic" to the town's quest for the study.

"They're willing to work with us and help us to do this," he said.

Public works budget

The majority of Tuesday's work session was spent reviewing the town's proposed public works budget for FY2014, presented by Steve Kline, deputy public works director.

The town commissioners approved a tentative $15.07 million budget during their April 15 meeting – the final version of the budget is scheduled to be adopted before June 1.

Public works is slated to have a $2.8 million budget next year, the second-largest part of the $11.7 million general fund, which covers public works, police, parks and recreation, community events and more.

The police department receives the largest amount of funding in the general fund, $3.15 million.

The public works budget is $189,268 lower than this fiscal year, as salaries are lower with the retirement of a 40-year veteran employees, fluctuating fuel prices and some major expenses budgeted for this year such as the $150,000 traffic signal at Boulton Street and Gateway Drive, which are not in next year's budget.

The traffic signal was installed earlier this year, but it has not yet been activated, Public Works Director Randy Robertson wrote in an e-mail Wednesday.

He stated the fabrication of the signal's control cabinet is expected to be finished by the end of April, and the signal activated in early May.

The public works budget also includes funding for sidewalk repairs – Kline said the sidewalks targeted for next year include Archer Street between Thomas and George streets; South Shamrock Road between Courtland Place and Route 22 (East Churchville Road); Williams Street between Maulsby Avenue and the Ma & Pa Heritage Trail; and Maitland Street between Fulford Avenue and Eastern Avenue.

Town officials have also designated 10 sections of streets for resurfacing.

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