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Metro and Md. Ready to Spend Stimulus Funds

Plans to widen Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway in Virginia have been delayed, officials say, because a regional board has mandated that the state conduct a transportation study before the project can proceed.
Plans to widen Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway in Virginia have been delayed, officials say, because a regional board has mandated that the state conduct a transportation study before the project can proceed. (By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)
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By Eric M. Weiss and Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 19, 2009

Metro and Maryland transportation officials said yesterday that they would use their share of the $787 billion stimulus package to pay for bridge maintenance, new buses and other large rehabilitation projects. Officials said the projects would create jobs while rebuilding the region's infrastructure.

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The Transportation Planning Board of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments approved $230 million in projects for Metro yesterday, including $40 million to replace its oldest buses and crumbling rail station platforms and $48 million to construct a rail-car inspection and testing building that would get new and rehabilitated cars in service more quickly.

Meanwhile, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) announced that the state would use its first wave of stimulus money to jump-start $365 million in transportation work, including road resurfacing and bridge maintenance projects. Work on some projects will start within 30 days, he said.

Virginia and the District have not released their plans, but Virginia officials have said that stimulus money would go toward rehabilitating infrastructure before working on new projects.

But the regional transportation board, which must approve all area projects applying for federal funds, dealt a setback to an approved project: the expansion of Interstate 66 westbound inside the Beltway. The project would essentially create a third westbound lane on the highway, which is restricted to two lanes in each direction inside the Beltway.

In a vote applauded by Arlington County officials and opponents of the widening, the board decided to require that the state conduct a transportation study of the I-66 corridor before the project can move forward. Virginia officials said the decision would delay the widening project three to four years.

O'Malley said that the Maryland projects aren't huge. "There is not a Golden Gate Bridge or Bay Bridge among them," he said yesterday at a meeting of the state Board of Public Works, which voted to approve about $3 million to renovate the MARC station in Laurel. "But they are needed throughout the state."

Maryland will receive $610 million in new federal money for road and transit projects, and a second phase will be announced in coming weeks. The money will put a dent in a $1 billion backlog of projects to preserve the system that transportation officials were forced to defer because of budget cuts.

"The sprint started this morning," Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said yesterday, describing the projects as "dozens of little next-day projects that will maximize jobs for Maryland companies." The administration estimates that the federal money will create 17,500 transportation jobs, about 10,000 from the first wave of spending.

The projects include $223 million for highway work, including $146 million for resurfacing, and $142 million for transit projects, $65 million of which would pay for 100 hybrid buses and equipment. There are millions of dollars to build safety guardrails on highways and bring sidewalks in Montgomery and Prince George's counties into compliance with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. Ten bridges in Prince George's County will be cleaned and painted.

O'Malley said that transportation officials have been meeting with contractors "to let them know that work is on the way."

"Many of them are holding on by their fingernails and just feeling like they're living day to day, postponing tough decisions about laying people off," the governor said. Some of the projects were bid, but contractors were told that the state would have to hold off. Others will be competitively bid in coming weeks, officials said.


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