Paving the Road to Cooperation


The arrangement by which Howard County and the federal government, with an assist from Maryland, will split the cost of long-overdue repairs to two roads in a southeast county community is a heartening illustration of how the various levels of government can work together when they determine to do so.

The two roads, Hicks Lane and Franklin Drive, in the historic African-American community of Cedar-Villa Heights were privately owned and maintained for decades. Maintained, that is, as adequately as the owners were able.

Hicks Lane, for example, has gone unpaved for nearly 30 years. Consequently, the roads were hazardous during inclement weather and pothole-chocked the rest of the year. One resident noted that it was miraculous "we didn't have coffins lined up" because of the treacherous driving conditions last winter.

Recently, though, Howard County assumed responsibility for Hicks Lane and Franklin Drive. Next year, the county will begin repaving the roads, as well as installing a new drainage system, sewer lines and sidewalks in the area. (As late as 1980, residents were still using outhouses.)

The work will be funded by a combination of county money and a federal Small Cities Community Development block grant that is administered by Maryland's Department of Housing and Community Development. The county will pony up three-quarters of the $396,000 cost, with the block grant covering the remainder.

Another $243,000 in federal block grants, also delivered to the county through the state, have been awarded to Promise Place, a home for pregnant women in Woodbine; Grassroots, a homeless shelter in Columbia, and the county's Human Rights Office.

The recent announcement of the federal block grant for the Cedar-Villa Heights road repairs came some 20 years after residents began petitioning the local government for help. As Howard Councilman Vernon Gray points out, the county would take no action so long as Hicks Lane and Franklin Drive were private roads. Credit the county government for finally -- if belatedly -- taking over the roads and then networking with the state to tap into the federal grants available for the improvements. These results show that good things can happen when various levels of government cooperate.

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