Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday announced the largest transportation budget in state history, taking advantage of the good times, he said, to jump-start road and mass-transit projects with $2.7 billion in additional spending over the next six years.
At the same time, legislators from Northern Virginia began debating details of a plan from Gov. James S. Gilmore III to spend an additional $2.5 billion on transportation over six years, a program that could help finance such projects as rebuilding an Interstate 66 interchange in Gainesville, extending Metrorail service to Tysons Corner and creating express bus service along the Dulles Access Road.
Much of the new spending will benefit the Washington area but still falls short of what many transportation advocates hope for. Glendening (D), for example, has refused to move ahead on an intercounty connector between upper Montgomery and Prince George's counties; Gilmore (R) has criticized suggestions for regional taxing power to expand transportation spending.
Still, the budget proposals are advancing plans for important projects such as replacing the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and extending Metro's Blue Line in Prince George's County.
The enhanced spending plans for transportation developed at a time when the two state governments are enjoying surpluses that allow such investment and are continuing to hear from businesses and commuters frustrated by traffic congestion.
"Because of the congestion in the Washington metropolitan area and because of the unique opportunities to make a real difference, this budget includes an extraordinary amount of money targeted to transportation in the Washington region," said Michael Morrill, a spokesman for Glendening.
Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce Chairman James W. Dyke Jr. said that the two states' transportation proposals represent a significant step in dealing with the Washington area's traffic problems. But, he said, far more needs to be done.
"It means clearly it's a top priority for both states," Dyke said. "They both recognize transportation is a major concern in both states in the region."
Glendening's plan to raise the state transportation budget to $8 billion would increase the current spending plan by about $2.7 billion. Like Virginia, Maryland is using a combination of state tax money and other revenue sources.
Glendening's transportation budget, a 43 percent increase from last year, includes $300 million for projects in Prince George's and Montgomery counties, such as widening Route 28.
Maryland lawmakers generally are happy with the transportation spending, some saying the largess compares to the era when the federal government was building the interstate highway system.
House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany) praised his fellow Democrat's plan, calling it "a tremendously responsible way to use some of the prosperity we've been blessed with."
Glendening proposed spending money from the state's operating budget over the next several years for major transportation projects, such as the Blue Line extension and the Wilson Bridge. The governor also has decided to resume borrowing for transportation projects after paying down much of the $1.2 billion bond debt that had accumulated for roads and mass transit.
"If there are unforeseen slowdowns in the economy, we would still have to meet these commitments," Glendening said.
A state commission has said Maryland needs to spend nearly $27 billion more than planned over the next two decades to keep pace with traffic.
In Richmond, legislators who tapped into voter unrest over transportation problems in the fall elections are sitting down to work out the details of new spending in the state's two-year budget.
Gilmore's $2.5 billion transportation package would add about $400 million in each of the next six years in new construction money to the roughly $1.5 billion a year already budgeted for highway construction and transit.
The governor's program is far smaller than many lawmakers from the Washington area would like. Some also complain about its reliance on the state's share of the national tobacco settlement.
But Republicans hope the Northern Virginia delegation still will unite behind Gilmore's plan.
"Right now, it's the only game in town," Del. John A. "Jack" Rollison III (R-Prince William), co-chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said of Gilmore's plan. "If we aren't careful, we could end up with nothing."
Michael P. Carlin, chairman of Region, a business consortium, said he hopes Northern Virginia lawmakers will push for a larger transportation package.
"When it comes to the needs of Northern Virginia, [Gilmore's] $2.5 billion plan just isn't going to cut it," Carlin said.
But even legislators who are critical of Gilmore's package said they are prepared to back it.
"We just have to," said Del. James H. Dillard II (R-Fairfax). "Northern Virginia gets the largest amount from the governor's package. I think we need to find a way to do it."
The Northern Virginia Transportation Coordinating Council, the region's top transportation panel, has said an additional $14 billion needs to be spent by 2020 to keep traffic from getting worse.
Such a heavy investment is unlikely. Virginia political leaders have long been reluctant to borrow money to build transportation projects, favoring the spending of current revenue instead. New taxes are unlikely given the opposition of Gilmore, whose tax-cutting zeal will require the state to spend more than $1 billion a year to make up for lost revenue.
Staff writer Justin Blum contributed to this report.