Potholes for the city?

May 27, 1994

Helen Bentley may have started another controversy she'd just as soon forget. The 2nd District congresswoman and Republican candidate for governor told a forum this week that Baltimore City's road repair money from the state should be "pared down some" because "everybody wants to be taken care of." She's the only candidate taking that position -- and for good reason.

There's a sound explanation why the state's transportation formulas are tilted heavily in the city's favor. The city is responsible for maintenance and repairs on all its roads. In a densely populated urban environment with an aging infrastructure, that can be very expensive. City workers must do all the work. But in the counties, all the major roads are maintained by the state of Maryland, using state highway workers. That relieves the counties of a huge financial burden.

Had Mrs. Bentley done some research, she would have discovered that a panel of 16 state legislators looked at this question three years ago. The group's conclusion: don't change the formula for distributing state road money.

For years, Montgomery County legislators have complained about this road-aid formula. Thus, Mrs. Bentley's position might win her support among Montgomery Republicans. Yet look at how Mrs. Bentley's two GOP foes responded to the same question. They, too, want to cater to the large Republican constituency outside the city. Del. Ellen Sauerbrey said the formula should be reviewed but "there's not a simple yes or no answer." Clearly, she understands the city's road woes are unique in Maryland. William S. Shepard went even further, opposing any such aid cut because it would hurt efforts to build up the city.

Mr. Shepard's assessment is on the mark. Paring down road aid to the city would mean only more potholes and deteriorating streets in Baltimore. What if funds were cut $30 million? There's no way the city could come up with that kind of money on its own. Roads would go unpaved and untended. That is an unacceptable vision of the future.

The question gubernatorial candidates should be addressing is Maryland's overall transportation needs. The high costs of roads and mass transit are fast depleting state revenues. What are our priorities? How should we pay for these projects? There isn't enough money in the till to take care of everybody. Tough choices await the next governor, and transportation will be near the top of the list.

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