Developer joins with community for funds
State officials say money for intersection not likely until economy improves

In an effort to get state funding restored to a long-awaited intersection improvement project in Ashton, a local developer and several civic organizations that were once at odds are banding together to lobby Maryland officials.

Improvements to the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and Ashton-Sandy Spring Road are a vital part of the Ashton Meeting Place development project, but delays in the planning stages led the State Highway Administration to postpone funding.

After long and sometimes heated negotiations, Nichols Management Inc., the Sandy Spring-based development company, along with the Sandy Spring Civic Association (SSCA) and the Sandy Spring Ashton Rural Preservation Consortium (SSARPC) are launching a letter-writing campaign to elected officials and state highway officials.  Refer to“You Can Help Fix This Intersection” for details.

"We're most concerted with the safety improvements," said Fred Nichols, president of Nichols Management Inc. "This [intersection] was always a safety issue, for years and years. Sixty-five thousand new people have moved into the area and they haven't done anything to improve the intersection."

But Chuck Gischler, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration, said there is a problem.

"About $1.1 billion was deferred last week [by Maryland lawmakers] for transportation projects," he said.

The statewide cuts, which come out of Maryland's six-year $10.5 billion capital program, will not affect priorities that include bridge maintenance, safety projects and Maryland's share of dedicated funding for the Metro system, Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said last week.

But other projects are feeling the pinch.

Some $45.3 million of state funding was cut from road improvements around the Bethesda Naval Medical Center on Wisconsin Avenue and $42.5 million in engineering work was cut from the Corridor Cities Transitway, a proposed light-rail or rapid-bus link along Montgomery County's Interstate 270 corridor.

Gischler said the safety improvements at Ashton-Sandy Spring Road and New Hampshire Avenue are on the list of projects that will be deferred.

"It will be deferred until the economic conditions improve, then we have to prioritize," he said. "Right now there is a finite amount of money."

Michelle Layton, co-chair of SSARPC, said she sent a note to the 800 people on the group's mailing list asking for help.

"It's something that we worked so hard to get as close to the [Sandy Spring-Ashton] Master Plan as we could," she said. "We'd hate to see it not happen because of this."

Thene Mernick, president of SSCA, said she sent a letter to the SHA in support of the improvements on behalf of the civic association.

"In order for that project to go forward, the highway improvements need to go forward," Mernick said. "What we're hoping will happen is that they will put in pedestrian walkways. The more the citizenry involves itself, the more likely the squeaky wheel will get the grease."

Nichols said SHA approved funding the intersection improvements in 2007. Redesigns of the Ashton Meeting Place plans, however, delayed the building schedule and the SHA put a hold on the funding. Strong community support for the improvements remains.

"Sherwood High School is involved, Project Change is involved," Nichols said.

The office of Montgomery County Councilman Donald Praisner (D-Dist. 4) is looking into the request and state Del. Karen Montgomery (D-Dist. 14) has pledged her support, he said. Dels. Anne R. Kaiser (D-Dist. 14) and Herman L. Taylor Jr. (D-Dist. 14) are also involved, he added.

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