State transportation's hush money Construction plan: $511 million budget seems driven by politics, not a long-term vision.

February 05, 1996

GOV. PARRIS N. Glendening's recently released transportation program allocates $22 million for highway sound barriers but far more in projects designed to muffle the clamor from political foes. Much of the $511 million construction plan was adroitly spread around the state to hold down opposition to the chunk of money for roads near Jack Kent Cooke's proposed football stadium in Prince George's County.

The governor merited a Golden Globe Award for his straight-faced pronouncement that the $48 million in roads to help the Redskins complex would have been spent in time anyway. There are hundreds of miles of roads are on the planning books -- like the low-priority P.G. projects -- that will never be built. And the notion that politics didn't drive the $42 million award for a two-mile parkway in the district of House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. is hard to swallow.

Political massaging aside, the budget does a lot of good for various areas of the state. The Baltimore beltway backups in Parkville that are as much a rush-hour given for many motorists as their morning coffee would be eased by adding lanes between Interstate 83 and White Marsh Boulevard. An additional along Interstate 95 from Bel Air to Aberdeen will smooth travel through the northeastern corridor. About $60 million is going toward highway and mass transit improvements in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, not counting the Redskins stadium roadwork. Even the aforementioned two-mile parkway in Allegany County may have spinoff economic development benefits if it enhances the development of the C&O Canal as a tourist attraction in job-hungry Western Maryland.

The governor's rationale that this is no time for a gas tax or fee increase to fund a broader program is understandable politically, especially considering the heat he's getting for prudently sitting tight on an income tax cut for now. Still, there's no sense of a long-term vision in this document regarding mass transit. Some of these projects will only serve to solidify single commuters in their cars deep into the 21st century. Perhaps it's naive to think a transportation construction document should be about transportation planning and not politics, but this one certainly seems driven by the latter.

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