Road list contains a project for all State transportation officials list projects that higher fees would allow.

June 18, 1991|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Evening Sun Staff

Maryland transportation officials have produced a list of more than 120 stalled highway, rail, bus and airport improvements that fTC will be released from limbo if the General Assembly votes to increase Motor Vehicle Administration fees next week.

The list contains more than $450 million worth of projects, including replacement of the old Severn River bridge in Annapolis, noise-abatement efforts around Baltimore-Washington International Airport, improvements to U.S. 50 west of Annapolis and new surfaces for portions of Interstates 83, 695 and 795.

The Department of Transportation put the projects on hold in December when plummeting revenues pinched the Transportation Trust Fund, which finances capital projects.

Before agreeing to push for the fee increase, legislative leaders demanded a list of the projects their money would buy. The list seems to contain something for everyone. All but a handful of the state's 47 legislative districts would see at least one project released should lawmakers vote in the higher fees.

Transportation officials contend that is only a happy coincidence, however. "I think it was strictly by accident," Deputy Transportation Secretary Stephen G. Zentz said when asked about the location of the projects. "Politically, that's good to know," he added.

Zentz said the availability of federal funds, the status of projects when they were frozen in December and other nonpolitical factors determined where the money would be spent.

"This list wasn't put together to buy votes," said one General Assembly staffer familiar with the projects.

The legislature will determine whether those projects can begin when it votes June 26 on a bill to raise about five dozen fees charged by the MVA. The higher fees would reap more than $40 million a year.

If the bill passes, the cost of renewing a driver's license would rise from the current $6 for a four-year license to $20 for a five-year license. A title certificate for a new car would increase from the current $1 to $12.

Car, motorcycle and trailer dealers also would have to pay substantially more for business licenses. New-car dealers, for example, would see the current $50 annual fee increase to either $200 or $250, Zentz said. The exact amount has not yet been decided.

The Transportation Department would use the fee revenue this year as matching funds to secure $312 million in federal highway money. The department also plans to borrow against the revenue to help finance other projects.

The big ticket items include:

*$135 million to upgrade U.S. 50 to interstate standards from Bowie to Annapolis.

*$26 million for an interchange at U.S. 29 and Md. 103 in Howard County

*$40 million to replace the aging Md. 450 bridge over the Severn River in Annapolis.

The list includes many smaller road resurfacing projects from Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore, as well as some unusual items.

For example, the state would spend $2 million to line storm drains at the Dundalk Marine Terminal to keep chrome-contaminated water from seeping into Chesapeake Bay, Zentz said.

To curb the effect of jet noise, the state proposes spending $9 million to soundproof homes and conduct other noise-abatement projects near BWI Airport, Zentz said.

For mass transit users, the department plans to buy replacement buses and 10 additional coaches for MARC commuter rail service.

The projects would create an estimated 3,000 jobs in the highway construction industry, according to the Transportation Department. Contractors and road builders have lobbied heavily raise both fees and motor fuel taxes to help rescue them from the recession.

Even if the MVA bill passes, the department says it won't have enough money for another 200 projects worth more than $850 million. Legislative leaders say they'll consider raising state gasoline taxes during their 1992 session as a way of refueling the depleted transportation fund.

The MVA bill would make it easier to raise money without political fallout in the future, under a compromise worked out by members of the state Senate and House of Delegates.

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