Citing revenue drop, state suspends start of transport projects

December 09, 1990|By David Michael Ettlin

Citing "severely declining transportation revenues," Gov. William Donald Schaefer announced yesterday that he is suspending the start of new transit projects for 30 to 45 days.

Affected by the order, according to Deputy Transportation Secretary Stephen G. Zentz, are about 70 projects -- more than $330 million worth of highway improvements, bridge overhauls and construction work.

"The unexpected decline in Transportation Trust Fund revenues brought on by the Mideast crisis and current economic conditions have given us no alternative but to suspend these projects," Governor Schaefer said. "This will give incoming Transportation Secretary [O. James] Lighthizer time to study the situation and look at what needs to be done in the future."

It also comes as state officials begin examining proposals to increase transportation revenue -- chiefly through an increase in Maryland's 18.5-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax.

The Department of Transportation is scheduled on Tuesday to present its proposals for funding over the next six years to the governor's Transportation Revenue Committee, which began meeting last month to consider increasing the gas tax and vehicle fees.

The latest revenue estimates indicated that the department will be about $521 million short for fully funding its six-year capital spending plan through fiscal year 1996.

"Part of our concern in the action that the governor took today is we're afraid the legislature is going to think we're putting a gun to its head," Mr. Zentz said. "What this is all about is the reality of the situation. The money isn't there."

Paul E. Schurick, spokesman for Mr. Schaefer, said the project suspensions are "completely separate" from a proposal to increase the gas tax. "It's plain and simple management. You can't spend what you don't got," Mr. Schurick said.

According to Mr. Zentz, the department expects a $206 million revenue shortfall over the next 18 months -- $54 million in fiscal 1991, which ends June 30, and another $152 million in the next fiscal year.

With planned new projects totaling about $330 million, Mr. Zentz said that, based on current revenue estimates, "we can really only do about a third of the program."

"I think our approach, instead of canceling projects, would be to begin deferring projects. This first action . . . is to give us time to analyze where we are and develop recommendations on where we should go."

Among the larger projects affected by the governor's order are resurfacing for Interstate 83 in Baltimore County (nearly $15 million), resurfacing and widening of Route 214 in Prince George's County ($25.5 million), and improvements for U.S. 50 in Anne Arundel County (more than $43 million).

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