Glendening says mass transit expansion essential to solving state traffic troubles Sauerbrey says building roads should come first

October 03, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron and William F. Zorzi Jr. | Thomas W. Waldron and William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening sketched out a far-reaching expansion of the state's mass transit network yesterday while his Republican opponent, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, called the plan a budget buster that should take a back seat to road building.

Moreover, Sauerbrey pressed her call for ending mass transit's dedicated revenue, a move legislators say would leave it vulnerable to Annapolis budget cutting.

The day's events highlighted, at least on mass transit, the candidates' divergent views, something Glendening has tried to during the campaign on a host of issues.

Addressing business leaders and elected officials in Bethesda, Glendening called the expansion of mass transit a crucial element of the state's transportation master plan.

"Any solid, future-oriented strategy for dealing with traffic congestion must begin with mass transit," Glendening said. "Yes, all this will take time and money. But it is an absolutely essential investment. The task will only become more expensive while our traffic congestion gets worse."

Plan would link suburbs

Providing few details, Glendening called for expanding "suburb to suburb" mass transit connections to help relieve highway congestion.

Aides said afterward that the governor was referring to long-discussed plans to build a rail line roughly parallel to the Capital Beltway, linking all Maryland spokes of the existing Metro system.

The governor is also proposing extending transit service from Prince George's County to high-growth areas in Southern Maryland, using expanded bus service or a new light rail line, aides said.

While Glendening was formally proposing the addition of $381 million in road and minor transit improvements around the state over the next six years -- an annual step in preparing the state budget -- he did not commit funding to either of the two major mass transit projects in the Washington suburbs.

In the past, the state's other major mass transit projects have been paid for largely with federal assistance.

Later, at a news conference in Annapolis, Sauerbrey suggested that there is often little demand for mass transit and that building highways should take precedence.

'A fairy tale'

"Everybody talks about transit for someone else," she said, noting low ridership. "This is a fairy tale, folks. This is a fairy tale.

"I'm not suggesting that there aren't transportation corridors where mass transit makes sense," she said. "But by and large, the most effective form of transit is going to be park-and-ride buses and not fixed rail."

Sauerbrey accused Glendening of an election-year "spending spree" and estimated the cost of the rail proposal at $13 billion.

She said the state's 23.5-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax would increase "by 50 cents or more," based on the estimated cost of extending the Metro system.

Aides to Sauerbrey said those numbers were based on their belief that federal support of big mass transit projects will be a thing of the past, forcing Maryland to pick up the entire cost.

A spokesman for Glendening later called her assertion about a tax increase off base and characterized his mass transit plans as affordable over a 20-year period.

In recent years, state officials have warned that the state's transportation trust fund -- fueled largely by gasoline tax receipts and motor vehicle fees -- is not growing fast enough to keep up with the need for road and transit projects.

Trust fund change proposed

Sauerbrey has proposed taking mass transit projects out of the transportation trust fund, which would free as much as $380 million for road construction.

Sauerbrey would instead use general state revenues to pay for mass transit, a plan that several key legislators say would inevitably lead to a reduction in funding for such projects.

Glendening dismissed such an idea yesterday, saying, "That is a way to make sure that we will no longer be supporting mass transit.

"If you're committed to mass transit, you need a regular, predictable source of support," he said. "Under her proposal, the first time the budget gets tight, that money will be cut."

Pub Date: 10/03/98

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