Road Work Suddenly In Danger

County Fights To Save Local Highway Projects

March 27, 1991|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff writer

State Transportation Department officials say they will delay a new commuter rail project for the county as well as construction on Route100 and Route 32 if state legislators don't reverse their stand against a gasoline tax increase.

Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer said yesterday that without the 6 1/2-cent-per-gallon increase, even road maintenance and improvement projects could be delayed. For Howard County, that includes $3.3 million worth of road resurfacing and $1.6 million in improvements.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker said he plans to meet with Lighthizer during the next two weeks to discuss the projects' funding.

Ecker testified in favor of the increase before the House Ways and Means Committee two weeks ago, but the committee voted unanimously to kill the measure March 19.

The vote, which was seen as the increase's last chance in the General Assembly, prompted an immediate pronouncement from Gov. William Donald Schaefer's office that new road construction would have to be delayed 18 months to two years.

Another victim was a Maryland Association of Rail Commuters train station to ease overcrowded parking lots at the county's existing stations in Elkridge, Jessup and Savage.

The state had recently been discussing the acquisition of land for the MARC station at the Parkway CorporateCenter near Dorsey Road on the Howard-Anne Arundel county border, said David Paulson, vice president for marketing of the Parkway Co., which owns the business park.

"There is a proposal for a $2.6 million land acquisition, and that will not happen if we do not get a gas tax passed," Lighthizer spokeswoman Rebecca Reid said.

In Ellicott City, the failure of the tax increase will again put off the decades-delayed Route 100 project.

That project's first phase would createan overpass to eliminate the traffic signal on U.S. 29 at St. John'sLane. It would later become part of an interchange with Route 100.

The $24.3 million interchange is expected to take two years to complete, and building Route 100 from U.S. 29 to Route 295 in Anne Arundel County could take up to six years and cost an additional $107 million, not including segments built by developers.

Kassoff said contractors' bids for that project, which was advertised in October, have yet to be opened because of a recessionary shortfall in Transportation Trust Fund revenues, which come from gasoline tax receipts and Motor Vehicle Administration fees.

Lighthizer announced yesterday thatthose revenues are predicted to drop by $79 million during fiscal 1991 and 1992.

"If they had funded our original request as proposed by the governor and Secretary Lighthizer, we could have proceeded on schedule," Kassoff said.

County Public Works Director James M. Irvin, who will join Ecker when he meets with Lighthizer, said he believes the county is in a good postion to bargain for getting the Route 100 project started yet this year -- 31 years after it first appeared in county highway plans.

"We're looking to use county funds as a supplement to get this project under way," Irvin said. He said the county is willing to contribute $16 million toward either Route 100 or Route 32 construction as leverage to get the needed state money.

The county has already set aside $6 million for Route 100, which the state has agreed to refund after the road opens, but the additional $10million is unlikely to be refunded, Irvin said.

Irvin said a delay in the Route 100 project might endanger an agreement that commits developer James Moxley to construct a six-lane Long Gate Parkway connecting the end of Route 100 to Route 103, which the developer will also widen by one lane.

But Kassoff said that while very few countiescan contribute to state highway projects, they still cannot proceed without the state's contribution.

Bids for the $26.8 million Route32 project are scheduled to be advertised early next year. The initial phase of the project, a two-lane road from Cedar Lane to Route 108in Clarksville, is expected to take two years to complete.

The Schaefer Transportation Department's dark view of the highway funding situation is not shared by legislators, however, said Delegate Thomas H. Hattery, D-4A, chairman of the Ways and Means Transportation Subcommittee.

"They were telling us that without a revenue increase this year all new projects would be put on hold," he said, and only maintenance projects would be funded.

"However, it came out later fromthe department's own sources that they were going forward with most of their projects that were not yet under contract," Hattery said.

He said he did not think that Howard County projects were as likely to be delayed as the department has indicated.

STATE TRANSPORTATION PROJECTS IN JEOPARDY

PROJECT. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .EST. COST

Route 32 relocation (Cedar Lane to Route 108). . . . $26.8 million

St. John's Lane/U.S. 29/Route 100 interchange. . . . 24.3 million

Land purchase for Dorsey commuter rail station. . . . 2.6 million

U.S. 29 resurfacing, Route 216 to Owen Brown Rd. . . 1.9 million

Route 108 resurfacing, Route 32 to Patuxent River. . 876,000

U.S. 40 widening, U.S. 29 to Normandy Shopp. Ctr. . . 659,000

U.S. 1 improvement, Elkridge. . . . . . . . . . . . . 501,000

Route 144 improvement, Route 32 to Triadelphia Road.. 484,000

Dayton Maintenance Facility reconstruction. . . . . . 240,000

Total. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 58.36 million

Projects for fiscal years 1991 and 1992

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