Parking problems in the historic district of Ellicott City could be alleviated before the end of the year, when a new 82-space parking lot is expected to open just across the Patapsco River bridge.
Construction on the parking lot, a joint venture between Howard and Baltimore counties, is scheduled to begin this fall.
The project was moved ahead after Howard County earlier this month won a $213,000 transportation award for the construction, which also includes building sidewalks in the neighborhood of Oella and upgrading the bridge, from the state Transportation Department's Enhancement Program.
"We're delighted," said Williams Fulton, president of the Ellicott City Restoration Foundation, a nonprofit community improvement group which co-sponsored the award. "We're constantly trying to find ways to make Ellicott City more attractive."
Merchants in historic Ellicott City, who have long complained of insufficient parking, say they are looking forward to the new parking lot.
"I think it's going to be extremely beneficial," said Barry Gibson, president of the Ellicott City Business Association. "That would be like a satellite parking lot for us."
Historic Ellicott City has 550 on- and off-street parking spaces for a total of about 240 apartments, retail and professional businesses, Mr. Gibson said.
While there is an abundance of parking spaces in the western part of the area, there is a dearth of them in the eastern part of town, he said.
"The major retail is on this end," Mr. Gibson said of the eastern area where his wife and mother-in-law operate a business. "It's like a flip-flop situation now."
The award, issued July 9, supplies federal and state money to transportation or area projects that add community, environmental, scenic or historical value.
Under the program, the county must come up with matching funds for the total award. But since the state owns the Patapsco River bridge, the State Highways Administration will provide $80,000 of the matching funds for refurbishing the bridge, leaving the county responsible for only $130,000, said Lucy Garliauskas, chief of Statewide and Intermodal Planning, which administers the award program.
The county's matching funds have already been approved under the fiscal 1994 capital budget, said C. Edward Walter, the county's chief traffic engineer.
Besides the parking lot and sidewalks along Oella Avenue between the lot and the Patapsco River bridge, the project will include bridge enhancements such as brick pavement, low-level lights and new railing. Baltimore County, which donated the land for the parking lot, will manage the parking lot once it is completed.
Before the county received its award, state and local officials were negotiating how to use the money. Initially, the county wanted to buy the B&O; Railroad Station Museum from CSX Transportation Inc. and build the Oella sidewalks.
But the state said the parking lot did not qualify for the award because it was not included in the initial project.
State officials eventually agreed to include the lot after local officials submitted the project again with the parking lot included, and convinced them it would add to the community and environment.
- "That's an integral piece to linking pedestrian improvements," Ms. Garliauskas said. "Those three improvements were all . . . functionally related and they were all in the same geographic area."
The parking lot is expected to attract Ellicott City shoppers, people who visit the Patapsco Valley State Park and those who will use the hiking and biking trails that Baltimore County is developing along former trolley lines, Mr. Walter said.