When considering the future of transportation in Maryland, we are focused on one important concept: balance. Only a balanced transportation network based on road and transit improvements as well as smart growth initiatives like the neighborhood revitalization and "commute smart" programs will help us address the transportation demand we face now and in the years ahead.

Gov. Glendening and Lt. Gov. Townsend ushered in their second term by laying out a balanced vision for transportation. Their most challenging mandate: to double transit ridership in Maryland by the Year 2020. A recent state report anticipated that by 2020 Maryland population will increase 20 percent and its employment base will rise by 25 percent. More than ever, doubling transit ridership--along with investments in a highway infrastructure that is compatible with our environment and our communities--is a mission that is essential to economic development, quality of life and public health.

Glendening last week announced that the state will invest a major portion of its bountiful budget toward the construction of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the extension of the Metrorail Blue Line from Addison Road to the Largo Town Center.

The Woodrow Wilson Bridge is the true backbone of our regional transportation network and one of the most vital segments of this nation's interstate highway system. The Largo extension will help fuel Prince George's County's emergence as a regional economic engine, provide transit alternatives for fast-growing communities outside the Beltway and facilitate smart growth-oriented developments such as the Largo Town Center.

An example of this balanced approach is Montgomery County. Since this administration took office, the department has added nearly $5 billion to the state's consolidated transportation program for highway and transit-related construction projects. Montgomery County alone has reaped more than $1 billion from this windfall, totaling more than 20 percent of the added funds.

Over the next six years, more than $300 million will be invested in intersection, interchange and road improvements in Montgomery county. A $40 million state investment will make the long-awaited Silver Spring Transit Center a reality. This facility, which will fully intergrate the Metro, Ride-On and MARC train services, will ensure a seamless transit network and anchor the landmark Downtown Silver Spring Revitalization Project. Meanwhile our Capital Beltway Transportation Study and the Georgetown Branch Transitway Study are evaluating a series of road and transit improvements for the region. Montgomery County will also benefit from the governor's tripling of the State's Neighborhood Conservation Program, revitalizing established communities throughout the county.

To preserve a regional Metrorail system that carries more than 570,000 passengers per day, the state is committed to a $130 million increase in the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's capital program. This investment reflects the state's view that a safe rail system is by far the most important factor in attracting new transit ridership.

To make transit more convenient a special $4 million state grant will enable Montgomery and Prince George's counties to join WMATA, the Baltimore-based Mass Transit Administration and local bus systems in Northern Virginia in a procurement of "Smart Card" farebox technology. This partnership will ensure that commuters and visitors will be able to ride transit throughout the Washington and Baltimore regions using a single farecard.

As Maryland continues to showcase its Washington suburban counties as models for smart transportation and growth, we benefit from strong advocacy by legislative leaders, county governments and concerned citizens, a vital partnership to breaking the gridlock that affects this entire region.

--John D. Porcari

is secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation.