Howard County courthouse up for a makeover

Howard County residents lobbied for an expansion to the county courthouse, an extension of Patuxent Trail and a sound barrier along I-95 in Elkridge Monday at the Howard County Council's public hearing on the proposed fiscal 2014 capital budget.

The council is scheduled to hold a work session Thursday on County Executive Ken Ulman's proposed $442.4 million capital budget, excluding education projects, before voting on the budget in May.


More than 50 residents attended the hour-long hearing. A public hearing on education funding in the capital budget is scheduled for April 29.

Lenore Gelfman, administrative judge of the Howard County Circuit Court, said there is limited space for criminal and jury trials and none of the courtrooms have built in technology.

She said the Ellicott City courthouse, which last underwent a renovation in 1988 and has nine courtrooms, is in need of an additional judge, but she cannot request one due to the lack of space available.

Some courtrooms are not considered safe for criminal cases because of their proximity to public areas in the courthouse, according to Gelfman.

"It's not a great situation," she said. "It's a unique one and not one that should have gone on this long, frankly."

Ulman has proposed $31.6 million in design and construction funding over four years to upgrade and renovate the courthouse.

Gelfman said the upgrades should meet the needs of the courthouse for at least the next 15 to 20 years.

Patuxent Trail Extension

A project that would add seven miles to the Patuxent Trail connecting Downtown Columbia and Savage is the number one priority in the Columbia Association's "Connecting Columbia" study, according to Jane Dembner, the association's director of community building and sustainability.

"That's how important we think it is," Dembner said.

Ulman has proposed $1.5 million in each of the next four years to build the trail along the Little Patuxent River sewer alignment.

But Allview Estates residents, such as Ted Markle, believe the proposed trail is dangerous because of its location in a flood plain and its duplication existing trails.

Markle said 160 residents of Allview have signed a petition in opposition of the project.

"It's just an extremely dangerous area," he said referring to the portion of the trail that would run behind Allview Estates.


But Columbia resident Ian Kennedy said the rest of the Patuxent Trail is subject to flooding because it is also in a flood plain.

"Its prone to the same flash flooding there as anywhere," he said.

Sound barrier for Lawyers Hill

Residents along Lawyers Hill and Old Lawyers Hill roads in Elkridge again asked county officials to lobby state officials for the funding of a sound barrier along I-95 near the historic community.

More than 15 residents of the area attending the meeting in support of the project. Residents of the area say traffic noise from I-95 affects their quality of life and question why other communities have a sound barrier, while they do not.

"Tonight, we ask only for fairness," said Pat Larkin, an Old Lawyers Hill resident, adding that communities to the north and south of Lawyers Hill have sound barriers.

"All we ask is for your honest effort and energy to make this right," he said.

The county has allocated $2.5 million for the project over fiscal years 2014 and 2015 for design and construction.

But the state's contribution for the project is uncertain. The state has allocated design funding for the project, but construction funding is uncertain with the state's lack of funding for transportation projects.

Sound barrier projects are funded 80 percent by the state and 20 percent by the county.