The Cost of Aesthetics

This is in response to Stuart M. Kohn's letter ["Art Murals a Waste," Howard Extra, Sept. 16] about murals on sound barriers along Route 216 in Howard County. The agreement between Howard County and Maryland to place artwork on Route 216 sound barriers was made nearly three years ago, before Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. took office.

Responding to community and elected officials' input about unattractiveness of sound barriers, the State Highway Administration researched aesthetic treatment options used by other states, including Pennsylvania and Arizona. To pursue the possibilities and generate unique and diverse options for new barriers, Maryland held a design competition. The highway administration ultimately selected designs that molded the barriers into forest, sailboat and flying bird scenes.

During the same period, Howard County asked the agency to incorporate aesthetic concepts into Route 216 barriers. The county and the highway administration chose a simulated brick pattern with intermittent "birds in flight" murals developed from the competition. Because Howard County contributed $3.9 million to the project, it thought the $62,000 additional construction cost of the mural treatment was more than covered.

Additionally, the Route 216 project [the construction of a new roadway between Route 29 and Interstate 95 to ease anticipated congestion on Route 216 in Howard] will cost $28.4 million and the sound barrier will cost $7.35 million. The cost for the art mural panels is less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the total project cost.

At Gov. Ehrlich's direction, any future construction of murals on sound barriers will take place only if the local jurisdiction agrees to pay 100 percent of the added costs. The state's goal in design and construction of sound barriers is to reduce the impact of highway noise on neighboring communities. The highway administration will continue to address those needs while seeking to provide the safest and best highway system in the nation.

Robert L. Flanagan


Maryland Department