Maryland Road Funding May Increase
By Scott Wilson
Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening has proposed $51.7 million in new highway construction money next year to relieve traffic congestion in Montgomery and Prince George's counties along major east-west commuter routes.
The funds are part of $381 million that the governor added to his five-year transportation capital budget this fall and would be used mostly to expand burdened intersections. The governor also found new money, thanks largely to the new federal highway bill, to begin construction ahead of schedule on two interchanges along Route 32 in Anne Arundel County and to provide more money for engineering work on a clogged intersection along Route 29 in Howard County.
But the bulk of the new money would go to Prince George's and Montgomery. In all, 12 Montgomery intersections are scheduled for improvement, including several along Rockville Pike, Georgia Avenue and Connecticut Avenue. Two intersections along Baltimore-Washington Boulevard in Prince George's also have been included in the budget for the first time.
Transportation planners say the additional money would provide short-term relief for commuters while state and local officials decide whether to build the intercounty connector, a $1 billion highway that would link Interstate 270 with Interstate 95 north of Prince George's. Glendening (D) initially supported plans for the highway but withdrew his backing during his reelection campaign this year. The road's fate now hinges on the outcome of a comprehensive study of commuting options that include mass transit.
"Whatever short-term improvement we can do is vitally important," said John Porcari, who will become Maryland secretary of transportation in January. "It's not a cure-all, but it should make a significant difference."
Along with many states across the country, Maryland has reaped unexpected windfalls from the $217 billion federal highway bill passed by Congress this year. The federal largess has allowed Maryland transportation officials to add $82.6 million in new road projects to the five-year spending plan and provide money ahead of schedule for an additional $216.8 million worth of work.
Almost all of the new money in the capital plan would go toward road building, even though Glendening has outlined ambitious plans to expand Maryland's mass transit system, particularly in the Washington suburbs. Most of the federal money must be spent on highways, officials say.
Only $5.1 million has been added to the capital budget for mass transit projects, but transportation officials say the operating budget will include spending for express bus service between Bethesda and Gaithersburg, expanded service in the Takoma Park area, a trial express service between Bethesda and Tysons Corner in Virginia and new routes linking suburban metro stations with the University of Maryland at College Park.
"That's very much in keeping with the governor's focus on balance," Porcari said.
Overall, Glendening plans to spend $3.7 billion over the next five years in his transportation capital budget.
The majority of that money would go toward building and maintaining state highways, although proposed spending next year on new roads is $42 million less than this year's. Over the next five years, spending on new roads is projected to decline 33 percent, prompting business leaders to suggest an increase in Maryland's 23.5-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax to help restore the state Transportation Trust Fund used to pay for the projects.
The General Assembly, which must approve Glendening's budget, may consider increasing the gas tax during the session starting in January. A panel of business and government leaders could be named by the end of the month to study the issue. "At some point, a revenue increase will be required, but it's a matter of when," Porcari said.
Other Washington area projects that Glendening has added to or accelerated in his capital budget include:
The $51.7 million for interchange improvements in Montgomery and Prince George's is the single biggest project added to the budget plan. Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) praised the governor in October for adding the money.
In Prince George's, the money would be used to improve intersections along Baltimore-Washington Boulevard at Powder Mill Road and at Cherry Lane. In Montgomery, funds would pay to add a left-turn lane on Connecticut Avenue at Veirs Mill Road and expand the intersection of Route 28 and Rockville Pike, among other projects.
"They are all needed," said Glenn Orlin, deputy staff director of the Montgomery County Council who specializes in transportation issues. "It's probably a good bang for the buck."
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