Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes announced today that his administration will accelerate work on $25 million in road projects for Prince George's County, giving county legislators a mammoth slab of political bacon to tote home and considerable bragging rights over their Montgomery County colleagues.
The projects, which include safety improvements to five of the six county intersections listed among the 10 most dangerous in Maryland, had been included in the state's long-range transportation plans, but none was guaranteed funds prior to today.
Hughes, flanked at a statehouse news conference by more than a dozen beaming Prince George's lawmakers, said that lower-than-expected costs on other state transportation projects had freed up money to begin county road improvements during the next four years. He said the construction otherwise might have been postponed well into the 1990s or beyond.
"I'm delighted," said State Sen. Frank Komenda (D-Prince George's).
"It moves our transportation needs program several years ahead of schedule."
"Harry has unclogged three of the biggest bottlenecks in the county," added Del. Timothy F. Maloney (D-Prince George's). "This is going to make people's mornings and evenings a lot more enjoyable."
The plan announced by Hughes today includes:
* Construction, to begin in the fall of 1989, of a $10 million interchange at Rtes. 450 (Annapolis Road) and 564 (Lanham-Severn Road).
* Building another $10 million interchange where Rte. 5 (Branch Avenue) meets Rte. 223 (Woodyard Road), starting in the summer of 1989.
* Construction of a $4.5 million interchange at Rtes. 202 (Landover Road) and 214 (Central Avenue), to begin in the summer of 1987.
* Design of a reconstructed overpass for Rte. 193 (Greenbelt Road) over the Baltimore Washington Parkway. Construction funds for the project will be sought from the federal government.
* Safety improvements, including new signals, turn lanes and lighting at four hazardous intersections: Rtes. 500 (Queens Chapel Road) and 501 (Chillum Road); Rtes. 5 (Branch Avenue) and 337 (Allentown Road); Rte. 414 (St. Barnabas Road) and Wheeler Road; and Rte. 210 (Indian Head Hwy.) and Livingston Road.
* Construction of sound barriers, beginning in 1987, along sections of I-95 and I-495.
Today's announcement culminated weeks of quiet negotiations between Prince George's legislators, Hughes and state Transportation Secretary William K. Hellmann.
County lawmakers were fairly crowing today about their success in bringing home $25 million worth of state transportation aid, a figure that dwarfed the $1.6 million in road funds won by Montgomery County legislators in a controversial deal engineered by House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore) during the legislative session that ended April 8.
"You play the ball game right, you do good," observed Prince George's Sen. Arthur Dorman.
In negotiating today's agreement, Prince George's legislators successfully played on the Hughes administration's displeasure with the Montgomery County deal, under which the legislature raided a new $3.5 million special transportation fund and specifically directed that the administration begin improvements to Rte. 118 in the Gaithersburg area.
Today, Hughes and Hellmann again questioned the wisdom of Montgomery's approach, suggesting that it introduced a destabilizing element of pork barrel politics into the state's long-range transportation blueprint.
"We have an orderly process for developing the highway program," Hughes said, "and when you start developing it . . . during the legislative session, that could lead to chaos. It's an awful precedent."
Sen. Laurence Levitan, a Montgomery Democrat who chairs the Senate budget committee, said he found no fault with the Prince George's coup.
"That's fine," he said. "We got ours earlier," a reference to the Rte. 118 funds, and other commitments from the Hughes administration to speed up scheduled improvements to I-270 and Rte. 28.
Hughes, who is widely expected to be a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1986, insisted that there was "absolutely" no connection between his rumored political ambitions and the transportation money he showered on Prince George's County.
But one Prince George's legislator said that Hughes' adroit sprinkling of road money around the state within the past year could serve him well.
"There are political spinoffs," said the legislator. "It's like chicken soup for a cold: it sure doesn't hurt."