Dutch's road show Transportation funding: Ruppersberger's complaint is hard to separate from politics.

November 11, 1996

WHATEVER MERIT lay in his complaint about the disparity of transportation funding in Maryland, Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger undercut it when he quickly dispatched a press release to ensure that no one missed the fact he had just taken on the governor from Prince George's County.

Mr. Ruppersberger knows that much of what he says and does in the coming months will be colored by the fact that he is often mentioned as a potential challenger to Gov. Parris N. Glendening for the Democratic nomination in 1998. If Mr. Ruppersberger, who also presides over the Maryland Association of Counties, has a problem with the balance of the state's transportation program, it oddly has not surfaced before in a less politically charged context.

Mr. Ruppersberger's specific complaint -- that Washington's beltway enjoyed eight lanes before Baltimore's -- bordered on bizarre. Drivers of the oft-congested Capital Beltway know it could probably use even more lanes.

Mr. Ruppersberger's recent "homer" comment might be understandable if he were auditioning for the fresh opening as Orioles' play-by-play man, but it failed to shed light on transportation strategy, which must be assessed over a longer period. Baltimore County, for example, has won plenty during the past decade, from light rail and Metro to the construction of I-195 and Route 43. If Mr. Ruppersberger is to lump all spending for Southern Maryland and Frederick County into the Washington sum through the year 2002, he makes the imbalance appear greater still.

We are not suggesting there aren't issues worth examining, not least of which is the continued need to invest in mass transit and highway projects that revitalize older, core areas. Also, it would be terribly naive to suggest -- and Mr. Ruppersberger knows it -- that political considerations are never weighed in the process. (The governor made himself more vulnerable to that charge when he fired Hal Kassoff, a veteran highways chief with a reputation for even-handedness and integrity.)

But the county executive's comments seemed unnecessarily divisive and without basis. Alas, that may not matter much to Mr. Ruppersberger, who probably already has achieved some of the impact he was seeking.

Pub Date: 11/11/96

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