ANNAPOLIS, NOV. 29 -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer has decided to appoint outgoing Anne Arundel County Executive James Lighthizer as secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, sources said today.

Lighthizer, 44, a Crofton lawyer, could be named as early as this weekend to succeed Richard S. Trainor, whose annual salary is $108,372.

Lighthizer will step down Sunday as county executive after serving two four-year terms.

Del. Timothy F. Maloney (D-Prince George's), chairman of a budget subcommittee that oversees the state's $1.78 billion transportation budget, said the choice of Lighthizer makes sense.

"As a former member of the General Assembly, he has a good rapport with the legislature," Maloney said. "He had good luck getting money from the legislature. And I think he also had the best-managed transportation system of any county executive."

Maloney and others, noting that Lighthizer was an early backer of rail transportation, said his appointment to Schaefer's Cabinet could signal a de-emphasis of roads as the answer to traffic congestion.

"He'll shift to more balanced programs -- alternatives to automobiles and a more environmentally sensitive approach," Maloney predicted.

Lighthizer met with Schaefer Wednesday night in Baltimore, but today declined to say whether he has been offered the post.

"We didn't talk about any specifics" of the job, said Lighthizer, who earlier had described Trainor's position as the only Cabinet job he "would even think about."

Before his name surfaced this month as a serious possiblility to succeed Trainor, Lighthizer had been ready to accept a job with a Baltimore law firm.

But a source close to him said Lighthizer began to rethink that plan after Schaefer called to urge him not to commit himself.

Lighthizer's would be the most high-profile appointment yet for Schaefer as he refashions his administration to prepare for his second term. The most immediate challenge for Lighthizer could be a push next year for higher gasoline taxes to improve the state's roads and bridges along with expanding mass transportation.

As county executive, Lighthizer has opposed the eastern bypass around Washington. However, he might be asked as transportation chief to push that plan, which has been endorsed by the governor.

The transportation appointment would give Lighthizer a prominent position from which he could launch a campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1994. Schaefer's predecessor, Harry Hughes, served as transportation secretary before becoming governor.