State could gain 35% increase in federal transporation aid House bill earmarks funds for favored road projects

March 25, 1998|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- A sweeping six-year transportation bill, packed with election-year goodies for most lawmakers, would send more than $100 million to Maryland for favored road projects. The measure is expected to pass the House next week.

Figures released yesterday show that Maryland would receive a total of $416 million for transportation annually, a 35 percent rise over levels set in 1991, when the first version of the legislation passed. Most states in the South and West would receive far sharper increases.

"I'm happy with this bill," said Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Republican from the Eastern Shore who sits on the House Transportation Committee.

Gilchrest said the bill would pay $18.5 million for the expansion of bus lines in Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County and on the Eastern Shore. Rail projects such as MARC and Baltimore's light rail system would compete for a share of $36.7 billion in mass transit money.

The earmarked road items, sharply scaled back from the state delegation's requests, include:

$24 million to help upgrade U.S. 113 north of U.S. 50 to Route 589 in Worcester County.

$17.7 million to improve and replace Baltimore's signal control system to coordinate traffic lights.

$15 million toward the new interchange for Interstate 70, Interstate 270 and U.S. 340 in Frederick County.

$13.3 million to improve Baltimore Empowerment Zone roads.

$12 million to upgrade the U.S. 29 interchange with Randolph Road in Montgomery County.

$10 million for improvements to the interchange at I-270 and Route 187.

Conspicuous by its absence was any money for the more than $1.5 billion overhaul of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge between Prince George's County and Alexandria, Va. The bridge is federally owned, but Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia are to take over ownership within the next few years.

The $216 billion House bill would require that the gas tax, set up in the 1950s to pay for highways, be used only for transportation initiatives. The Senate, which passed its highway bill earlier this month, would use some gas tax money to reduce the deficit and to pay for other programs.

Rep. Bud Shuster of Pennsylvania, the GOP chairman of the transportation panel, delayed releasing his bill for months, boosting its size as the deficit waned. Shuster indignantly challenged press reports and criticism of fiscally conservative Republican lawmakers that he was handing out earmarked projects to win votes. "People who profess to be so pious should be careful with the truth," Shuster said.

Pub Date: 3/25/98

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