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Ecker on interchange: yes, no, maybe? Howard County: Executive flip-flops after community calls him on road promise.


PEOPLE DON'T FORGET promises, even implicit ones. That is why many Howard County residents who travel through the Route 175-Snowden River Parkway intersection near Columbia are furious.

They say County Executive Charles I. Ecker's capital budgets promised money for an interchange at that busy intersection at a critical juncture in time when the county planning board was approving the gargantuan Columbia Crossing shopping center down the road.

Angry residents and lawmakers say the community tolerated the shopping center because they got something in return -- a budgetary commitment to ease the flow of traffic through a section of Route 175 where commuters wait through lengthy red lights at the intersections with Snowden River and Dobbin Road.

The community's outrage first mushroomed earlier this year when the executive proposed building a "dispersed movement" intersection, instead of a traditional (and more costly) cloverleaf or diamond-shaped overpass. But state highway officials rejected the novel idea as too risky. Then, the executive angered residents again by stating he would not fund the intersection at all because the county could not afford the $13 million to $17 million price tag.

Perhaps residents understand the county's financial constraints. But that's not their point. To them, a promise is a promise. Mr. Ecker's credibility is at stake. They want him to honor a pledge they insist he made, even if only through intimation.

The executive responded to the pressure at a public hearing last week, telling residents he would provide half the money for a $13 million diamond-shaped overpass and ask the state for the balance. But the community was not assuaged by that offer. Their argument remains the same, as Cecilia Januszkiewicz, PTC chairwoman of the Long Reach Community Association, voiced at the hearing: "The state didn't make those representations -- you did."

The state has other projects in the funding pipeline and has never indicated that it would upgrade the Route 175-Snowden River interchange. Indeed, Mr. Ecker will have a tough time trying to find money to build the interchange. But the executive's problem with the community right now is not affordability.

It's credibility.

Pub Date: 12/09/96

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