Distribution of road funds called unfair Ruppersberger says allocations favor Washington suburbs

'Historic imbalance'

State officials dispute analysis as misleading

November 05, 1996|By Ronnie Greene | Ronnie Greene,SUN STAFF

Paving the way for a road-funding dispute that leads to the governor's mansion, Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger charged yesterday that the area's suburban counties are getting severely shortchanged in state highway dollars.

To Ruppersberger, the big winners are the counties surrounding Washington. And the biggest winner, according to his staff's analysis: Prince George's County, home turf of Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Washington's suburbs, he said, are scheduled to receive $420 million in major road expansion or improvement projects over the next six years -- compared to $244 million for the Baltimore suburbs. Prince George's share is $236 million -- more than twice as much as any other county.

But Glendening administration officials say Ruppersberger presented just a snapshot of the facts. The bigger picture, they say, shows no such grave disparity in transportation funding.

"It's just not true," said Liz Kalinowski, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Transportation. "We in no way feel the county is slighted. And the numbers prove that."

With his words, spoken during and after a Department of Transportation meeting, Ruppersberger didn't directly criticize the governor, a fellow Democrat. But with his actions, he set up a potential battle with a man many consider on shaky political ground -- at a time Ruppersberger's name is bandied about as a potential challenger to Glendening in 1998.

During the meeting, Ruppersberger called for a gathering with Glendening and others "to discuss how to best remedy this historic imbalance."

After the meeting, Ruppersberger's staff issued a news release paraphrasing his speech and headlined, "Ruppersberger Says Baltimore Region Deserves More Support From State Transportation Projects."

Ruppersberger was careful not to direct darts.

"It's not a criticism of Glendening at this point," Ruppersberger said in an interview after the meeting. "It's a request for him to re-evaluate the whole process."

Ruppersberger says that over the next six years, suburban Washington counties are scheduled to receive 72 percent more money for major road expansion and improvement projects than are Baltimore's suburbs.

"Quite candidly, there is an imbalance in the program between the two metropolitan regions of our state," Ruppersberger told transportation officials gathered in the County Council chambers. "Washington region projects predominate."

The Baltimore region covers Howard, Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Harford and Carroll counties, but not the city. The Washington region covers Prince George's, Montgomery, Frederick, Charles, St. Mary's and Calvert counties.

Yesterday's meeting -- an annual event -- was held to allow county comments about the six-year transportation plan.

In his speech, Ruppersberger didn't single out Prince George's County -- where Glendening was executive before becoming governor.

But his staff's analysis shows that Prince George's is slated to receive the most money in major road expansion work over the next six years.

Ranking second: Howard, at $97 million; followed by Baltimore County, $88 million; and Montgomery, $85 million.

Ruppersberger contends the numbers are "out of balance," because the Washington region provides just 27 percent more in motor fuel taxes to the state than the Baltimore region.

To illustrate his case, Ruppersberger cited the state's beltways.

The Washington Beltway, he told transportation officials, has been fully widened to eight lanes, while the Baltimore Beltway is narrower in some places. A widening project now under way in the Pikesville-Towson area, he said, is just five miles long.

State transportation officials contend Ruppersberger presented only part of the picture.

Fending off potential criticism, they say Glendening has no direct hand in doling out transportation cash.

"He does not look at one region over another or one county over another, and allocate money based on that," said Raymond C. Feldmann, a Glendening spokesman.

"The decisions themselves are made at the Department of Transportation level," Feldmann said.

Kalinowski, the transportation spokeswoman, said Ruppersberger's comparison leaves out a huge chunk of highway dollars.

By focusing just on planned expansion projects, she said, the comparison omits funding for continuing projects or work such as resurfacing, intersection improvements and turn lanes.

Overall, she said, Baltimore County is slated to receive about as much highway funding as Prince George's and Montgomery counties -- about $300 million.

Agreed Feldmann: "It's very difficult to get into any sort of apples-to-apples comparison."

Ruppersberger maintains he's on to something.

"We've got to make it fair," he said.

Pub Date: 11/05/96

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