Maryland's newest attraction -- a $656,700 light show at the Key Bridge -- brightened the hazy evening sky for July Fourth boaters who took to the water yesterday, the day after transportation workers first flipped the switch.
That much money for a light show may seem extravagant for a cash-poor state, but the idea for dressing up the bridge came a couple of years ago when the state was flush, Thomas E. Freburger, spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority, said.
Nevertheless, the idea for decorative lighting on Interstate 695's outer harbor crossing was one the authority continued to pursue in recent tight-money years.
Mr. Freburger was quick to point out that cash for the lighting came from the authority's pot of toll money -- and not from the state's Transportation Trust Fund or the general fund, both of which are virtually broke.
The Maryland Transportation Authority, a quasi-public agency separate from the Department of Transportation, oversees the state's toll bridges, tunnels and highways, financing projects with the sale of bonds, backed by toll revenues.
The authority agreed to lend the department $75 million for the $489 million Hunt Valley-to-Glen Burnie light-rail line -- which is already plagued with cost overruns -- but now cannot afford to do so.
The authority overestimated revenue and underestimated costs by $48 million for the next five years and now must sell $78 million in 15-year bonds to help pay for the light-rail system.
The Key Bridge's decorative lighting was part of a $1 million project, which included $312,700 in roadway lighting improvements, Mr. Freburger said.
The cost of energy and replacing burned-out bulbs will be $10,000 a year, even if the lights are left on only four to six hours a night, as planned, he said.
The idea came from Gov. William Donald Schaefer back in 1983, when he was still mayor of Baltimore, Mr. Freburger said. Money for the project was included in the state's 1989 transportation budget, and the contract was awarded last May.
The decorative lighting was completed last fall, but authorities thought it inappropriate to throw the switch during the Persian Gulf war. Instead, they decided to wait until the Fourth of July week celebrations honoring Marylanders who served in Operation Desert Storm.