Maryland's two U.S. senators announced yesterday what one called a "down payment" on an ambitious program to help revitalize the Route 1 corridor, which is dotted with run-down buildings, clogged with traffic and generally perceived as unattractive.

"Route 1, of course, was, in a time, a wonderful gateway into the nation's capital," said Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D). "It is on its way to being a wonderful gateway again."

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D) said Prince George's County communities lining the corridor would receive $1.5 million in federal funds, a relatively small amount of money she nonetheless hoped would be a "down payment" on bigger plans in the future.

Generally, the funds will go toward beautifying the corridor by rebuilding sidewalks, giving face lifts to commercial facades and supporting image-lifting initiatives such as farmers markets and special events.

"We want to have a 'Smart Growth' strategy," Mikulski said, referring to the initiative of Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) to steer public resources into existing communities as a way to limit sprawl. With that approach, she said, "we think the opportunity for revitalizing Route 1 is now greater than ever."

The funds come out of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development budget as an Economic Development Initiative grant. The money will be awarded to the Prince George's County Economic Development Corp., which will work with the county's 14 municipalities along Route 1 and with Anacostia Trails Heritage Area, a historic preservation group, to decide which projects will receive funding.

Joseph J. James, president of the quasi-public Economic Development Corp., said he is hopeful that the grant will help lure private investors and make it easier to win state money for additional community development and highway improvements. And he is optimistic that more federal money will be available in the future.

"I'm hoping this is not the first and last opportunity to get money from this source," James said.

It is not the first time the county has received aid to improve the Route 1 corridor. Several million dollars are being spent in Laurel by the state's Mass Transit Administration to improve the area around Laurel's MARC train station, and intersections along the corridor will be reconstructed next year with $4 million from the State Highway Administration.

Leaders in Howard County are hoping to make similar progress on their section of Route 1. Officials and business leaders there are beginning to map out a strategy for rehabilitating the corridor, and Sarbanes said he was glad to hear about it.

"My reaction was one of great satisfaction to see that this thing is spreading," he said.

"We hope they get money, too," said Hyattsville Mayor Robert W. Armentrout. "We want the whole corridor to flourish."

As for the $1.5 million grant, "It isn't a whole lot, but we want all we can get," Armentrout said. "My only question now is: How's the pie going to be sliced?"

CAPTION: Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes says Route 1 can become a "wonderful gateway."