At just 0.2 miles, the small stretch of Ritchie Highway from Cypress Creek Road to McKinsey Road may seem insignificant, but it’s not insignificant for residents who have persuaded Maryland State Highway Administration officials to plan a feasibility study for sidewalks.
County officials delivered the news to an audience of about 40 people during a November meeting at St. John the Evangelist. The move came after the Cypress Creek Improvement Association — representing about 250 households — submitted a petition with support materials to the Anne Arundel County Department of Transportation and the Maryland State Highway Administration in September.
Cheyenne Dominguez, vice president of the Cypress Improvement Association, explained during the meeting that because of Cypress Creek’s geography as a peninsula, no backroads lead from the neighborhood to McKinsey Road or the Severna Park Marketplace shopping center. Sidewalks could also provide pedestrian access to St. John the Evangelist church and school, Sunrise of Severna Park, and the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry.
A lack of sidewalks is not just a matter of convenience, Dominguez said, but more importantly, it’s a safety issue. She cited one example from a recent trip along that 0.2-mile stretch of Ritchie Highway.
“Along Ritchie Highway, as I approached the corner of the Shell gas station, I saw my 10-year-old’s friend,” she said. “He was on a bike, wearing his helmet, and he was with his sister and she was on her bicycle too. They were both doing their best to stay out of the traffic lane, along the shoulder, just inches from cars going by with nothing more than that painted white line to separate them.”
Now that Anne Arundel County has asked the state to complete a feasibility study, that process could take three to four months. Maryland State Highway Administration deputy district engineer Karen Fiasco said her department must find right-of-way, utility and stormwater management impacts.
“Will we need a drainage system installed to capture that water?” she said. “How are we going to mitigate all that water to make sure there is no ponding on the roadway? Do we need retaining walls?”
Anne Arundel County transportation officer Sam Snead said the feasibility study will “get into the weeds” of those and other possible issues.
“The right-of-way can take a few months to a year [to resolve] because you sometimes have to negotiate with property owners,” Snead said, “Now there’s a Verizon building over there … sometimes folks don’t give up that property as easily as we would like them to. We’re hopeful that some of the property is already owned by the State Highway Administration, so that can expedite the process too.”
The administration also needs to negotiate with Baltimore Gas and Electric to relocate poles.
“You can’t just put in sidewalk and move BGE’s poles,” Snead said. “They technically own and operate that property. We’ll get the design done, usually in parallel with those processes being done.”
The state typically funds design and sometimes construction, Fiasco said, but all state projects compete for the same funding through a sidewalk program called Fund 79.
What can Severna Park residents do to ensure the Cypress Creek sidewalks become a priority for funding?
“You will need to continue to advocate,” County Executive Steuart Pittman told the crowd at St. John in November. “So, I can tell you that some of the major sidewalk projects that have happened, it’s people who have shown up at our budget town halls over the last four years and they demanded that it happen, and they advocated for it.”
Dominguez and others in her community are asking for as much help as they can get.
“A short stretch of sidewalk here in this 0.2-mile roadway, from traffic light to traffic light, provides us in this room with a unique opportunity to create something meaningful, something that improves our quality of life for our residents of all ages, school students, church-goers, our local businesses, the environment and even supports the state’s own goals,” Dominguez said.
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