Sykesville sees its downtown as a thriving marketplace, attractive to residents and visitors. But residents and officials agree that downtown's Main Street needs better sidewalks, more green spaces and an improved entrance -- enhancements the town cannot undertake without approval from the state.
The State Highway Administration has offered to help, because Sykesville's Main Street is part of Route 851 and belongs to the state.
SHA officials put on a slide show for Sykesville on Monday, showing the town what it has done with other Main Streets and what it could do with the mile-long segment of Route 851 that lies within municipal limits.
For many towns across Maryland, highways are the gateway and main thoroughfare. The state has established a beautification program meant to make these roadways and their surrounding downtowns more inviting to pedestrians and motorists.
Sykesville could participate in the program, which is part of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Smart Growth initiative. The state has completed preparatory work for the project, including ground and aerial surveys. The cost of the renovation is estimated at about $1 million.
The goal of the state project is to enhance safety, improve sidewalks and parking, correct drainage problems, and protect historical structures and natural features.
Now the state needs Sykesville's input.
"The state has developed an excellent program and I hope the town can participate," said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "This is a competitive process with priority given to towns with consensus."
Sykesville is considering taking ownership of the section of Route 851 that lies within its borders. The state has offered to make the improvements to Main Street before handing it over to the town.
"We would then have to maintain the road in perpetuity," said Herman. "But if all the work is done, maintenance costs would be low for several years."
The state would also pay the town highway user fees, money that would go into the municipal capital improvements budget until it is needed for repairs.
"This is a good plan, but we still have to weigh the benefits before taking the road over," said Herman.
The mayor will appoint a 15-member task force made up of business, community and political leaders who will work with the state and tailor a plan for Sykesville.
"We have some strange details that are definitely issues that need to be addressed," said Herman. Among these details are excessively narrow sidewalks and protruding utility poles -- including one that is in the street.
The slides displayed by SHA showed downtown assets -- such as small parks -- that could be retained, and drawbacks -- like the narrow sidewalks and protruding utility poles -- that could be eliminated.
"The town has historic buildings that give beauty and charm," said Allysha Nelson, state landscape architect. "The street is lined with small parks that make for an appealing streetscape. This is what we should try to promote and enhance."
A concept study will precede design work. It could be as long as two years before construction begins.