Md. to Cut Funding Of Roads, Transit

By John Wagner and Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 11, 2008

As part of an effort to pare $1.1 billion in transportation spending, Maryland officials announced cuts yesterday to several Washington area projects intended to curb congestion and accommodate military growth, as well as to planning funds for possible light rail lines.

Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said the reductions to the state's six-year, $10.5 billion capital program would not affect priorities that include bridge maintenance, safety projects and Maryland's share of dedicated funding for the Metro system.

But Porcari said lower-than-anticipated revenue from the gas tax, vehicle titling tax and other sources had forced the deferral of an array of projects, many of them added to the state transportation plan in the past year. Although the implications of some cuts were difficult to gauge, the announcement almost certainly means that some projects will take longer to complete or will be scaled back at a time of mounting congestion.

About one-third of the $45.3 million in funding for intersection improvements around the Bethesda National Naval Medical Center was cut, as was a similar share of $47.9 million for improvements around Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County. Both projects are part of an effort to prepare for an influx of jobs in 2011 from the military's base realignment and closure (BRAC) process.

About $25 million was deleted for engineering work for the Purple Line, a proposed light rail or rapid-bus link between Bethesda and New Carrollton. And $42.5 million in engineering work was cut for the Corridor Cities Transitway, a proposed light rail or rapid-bus link in Montgomery County's Interstate 270 corridor.

Other Washington area casualties included almost $60 million for a second round of road improvements aimed at reducing congestion around the Branch Avenue Metro station in Prince George's County.

The region's largest transportation project, the $2.4 billion intercounty connector, was not affected by yesterday's announcement because of a separate financing arrangement that largely insulates the planned 18.8-mile toll road from fluctuations in the state's transportation trust fund.

Porcari sought to play down the ramifications of many of the cuts during a meeting with reporters. He said Maryland is "moving ahead full speed" to compete next year for federal funds for the Purple Line and Corridor Cities projects. The eventual construction of the projects will almost certainly hinge on federal dollars, and officials said they had budgeted more for early stages of the project than needed.

Porcari and other transportation officials also said that BRAC-related intersection improvements remain in the planning stages and that funding could be adjusted upward in future years to accommodate actual needs.

"We hope to get a lot of those projects back on track," Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said yesterday, expressing confidence that state revenue would rebound when the national economy recovers.

Yesterday's announcement was the first in a series expected this fall from the O'Malley administration in response to a sour budget outlook. A state panel said this week that it expects $432 million less in operating revenue for this fiscal year than it projected six months ago.

Local officials, who are grappling with their own fiscal challenges, reacted with a mix of understanding and exasperation.

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