Bumpy review for road policy Potholes: A nonprofit transportation group's report says Maryland has the second-worst roads in the nation. TTC

The Intrepid Commuter

November 09, 1998

A WASHINGTON group warned Maryland commuters last week to buckle up for a bumpy ride when it released its second annual "Pothole Index," stating that Maryland's roads are the second-worst in the nation.

But the report touched off a controversy between environmentalists and bureaucrats after the nonprofit Surface Transportation Policy Project unveiled the formulas it used to show how states spend unrestricted federal transportation dollars.

Excluding data from state and local transportation budgets, the study revealed that Maryland spent $164 million on new construction in 1996-1997. But $72.7 million went for maintenance of existing roads, the study claims.

That has led to poor highway conditions that, in turn, result in repair bills averaging $711 over the life of a vehicle, says "Politics and Potholes."

As state and local bureaucrats went ballistic, project officials defended the findings.

"It's hard to dig through the state budgets" to decipher exactly how federal transportation funds are spent, said Laura Olsen of STPP. Instead, the group relied solely on federal data that measure road conditions and spending totals.

"We think they should be spending more of their money on maintenance," Olsen told Intrepid. "Regardless of what they are spending, clearly it is not enough."

With unrestricted federal spending formulas, states have leeway to decide how to divide their funds between repairs and new construction.

The report charged that contractors and developers push for new roads at the expense of repairing old ones.

Overall, the report concluded that most states are neglecting repairs to potholed urban highways by spending too much on new roads.

Oregon ranked worst in the nation.

Among other large states, Pennsylvania was fourth worst, Michigan ninth and California 12th.

Also highlighted were the urban metropolitan areas that received the least federal aid for repairs. According to the report, the worst roads are in the Norfolk-Virginia Beach area, while the Baltimore metropolitan area -- which includes all metropolitan counties and Queen Anne's County on the Eastern Shore -- ranked third.

Valerie Burnette Edgar, spokeswoman for the State Highway Administration, disputed the figures, saying the state spent 80 percent of its 1996 budget on road maintenance. Last year, she said, the first "Potholes and Politics" report concluded Maryland's roads ranked 25th worst in the United States.

"The proof is in the ride," Edgar said. "We have good conditions on our roadways. We don't know what they've done in the report. You can take stats and twist them any way you want. That's just what's happened."

Building walls and votes with state highway funding

Peace soon will reign for families who live in communities on either side of U.S. 50 on the south shore of the Severn River.

In the flurry of late-hour campaigning, Gov. Parris N. Glendening opened the state's wallet to commit $4 million to building sound barriers along both sides of the highway from Ridgely Avenue to the river.

That should cut loud truck noise in Riverview Manor and Lindamoor on the Severn.

The communities had qualified for sound barriers, but Glendening waited to announce the funding until the week before the election. Look for the funds to be added to the state's transportation construction budget, to be submitted to the General Assembly in January.

Shortcuts

In Carroll County this week, expect delays on Streaker and Old Hanover roads as county officials rework the surfaces. Good news: Housley Road, once a dead-end lane off Generals Highway across from Annapolis Mall, recently opened as a street that connects two shopping magnets, the mall and Gateway Village Shopping Center on Defense Highway. The commercial connector was designed to allow shoppers to bypass the busy intersection of Generals and Defense highways. Watch for gridlock from sugar-seeking commuters along Belair Road just north of the Beltway after last week's opening of a doughnut franchise. Spies for your wheelster witnessed the go-for-the-glaze craze and report that it's nothing less than "bumper to bumper" -- complete with daredevil U-turns across southbound U.S. 1.

Pub Date: 11/09/98

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