Light Turns Red on Transportation Plans

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 18, 2008

Montgomery County Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) said she became "really cranky."

Edgar Gonzalez, Montgomery's deputy director for transportation policy, summed up his feelings with a weary chuckle: "It hasn't been a good day."

Others let out small gasps as they read down the list.

As word of Maryland's proposed $1.1 billion in cuts to road and transit projects statewide reached Montgomery officials and transportation activists last week, the reaction was swift -- and a bit stunned. All told, the county could lose about $112.7 million for nine major projects, causing construction delays for some and throwing the future of others into question.

The cuts come as Maryland transportation officials are grappling with lower-than-anticipated revenue due largely to the economic slowdown and high gas prices that have caused motorists to buy less gas and fewer vehicles. The gas tax and registration fees are key sources of transportation funding.

"This is a lot larger than we expected," Gonzalez said of the Montgomery cuts.

Transit reductions aimed at Montgomery include $5 million that had been allotted to buy Ride On buses this year, $25 million in planning money for a Purple Line and $42.5 million in planning money for a Corridor Cities Transitway in the Interstate 270 corridor. Road projects losing money include replacing the stoplights at Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road with an interchange and building a new interchange on I-270 at Watkins Mill Road in Gaithersburg. Money also would be siphoned from improvements planned for Clopper Road and for Georgia Avenue between 16th Street and the Capital Beltway.

Montgomery officials say those hit hardest will be the residents slogging through ever-worsening traffic.

Floreen, who chairs the council's transportation committee, called the cuts she had seen for Montgomery "devastating." She said she knew gas tax revenue and other transportation-related collections were down but found it "shocking" that the spending reductions extended over six years.

"Once again, transportation is slipping to the end of the line," Floreen said.

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said he was "obviously disappointed" but optimistic that funding could be restored after the economy picks up.

"I'm hopeful this will be relatively short-term," Leggett said. "We'll fight to get projects back online."

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