Mountain Road Widening Threatened By Budget Cuts

March 14, 1991|By Robert Lee | Robert Lee,Staff writer

Thirteen-year-old plans to widen Mountain Road on the Long Point Peninsula may be scuttled or significantly delayed, a victim of the statewide fiscal crunch.

Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer has promised to "cancel" the $16 million project along with 74 other state projects if the legislature doesn't give his department a significant portion of the five-year, $1.5 billion gas tax increase that he has requested.

Lighthizer previously had threatened to defer state road projectsif the gas tax was rejected. But a March 6 letter to Sen. Philip Jimeno, D-Brooklyn Park, he explains that the department's entire "Consolidated Transportation Program will be scrapped and rebuilt," minus 75 previously approved projects unless he wins the gas tax increase.

The 75 projects were chosen based on "priorities of preserving the present system and avoiding the loss of federal dollars," Lighthizer wrote.

The proposed extension of Route 100 and access improvementsto Route 50 were also among the projects Lighthizer says will be scrapped.

The transportation budget was hit hard by a decline in vehicle tax receipts that left the department $521 million short of its estimates for this fiscal year.

Lighthizer told Jimeno that the department needs a $1 billion increase just to keep alive previous commitments and projects. Other projects like Mountain Road improvements "will have to be canceled without significant action on a revenue increase," he said.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, hasrepeatedly said he does not favor any major tax increases this year,and a bill calling for a 5 percent gas tax is not expected to pass.

Jimeno circulated Lighthizer's letter yesterday at a meeting of transportation officials, lawmakers and residents to discuss the Mountain Road project.

The meeting continued, despite the Lighthizer memo, under the assumption that it may only be delayed.

Transportation officials said the Mountain Road expansion project is now 45 percent through its design phase. Plans call for a new intersection with a stop light at Routes 100 and 177, and for the expansion of Mountain Road to five lanes between from Route 100 to Maryland Avenue. A third lane, for left turns only, would be added to the section from Maryland to Ventnor avenues.

Delegate W. Ray Huff, D-Pasadena, who was also at the meeting, said there may be alternatives to the gas tax, including the possibility that existing tax revenue may rebound with theeconomy.

Huff has joined an ad hoc committee formed by Delegate Tyras "Bunk" Athey, D-Jessup, to find long-range alternatives to the gas tax to prop up the transportation

budget. But the group's recommendations will not be ready this year.

Fifty-two percent of area residents surveyed in 1987 supported the limited expansion of the road, Jimeno said. He indicated that the project will continue to appearon project lists as long as it is supported by residents.

SHA District chief Edward Meehan said work is not scheduled to begin until at least 1993.

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