Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said yesterday that she would add Metro tracks to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement and would immediately launch a new environmental study of an embattled Montgomery County highway project if elected governor.
Speaking to a morning forum at the Greater Washington Board of Trade, Townsend released a five-point transportation plan for the Washington region, including specific commitments of $36 million in this year's budget and next year's spending plan.
"Transportation is absolutely critical to having a strong economy," Townsend said in an interview later in the day. "If people are stuck in traffic, if people don't feel they can get to work on time or at home before bedtime, they can't be either a good worker or a good family person."
$20 million in the 2004 budget as Maryland's share to purchase 50 new Metrorail cars and 100 buses. The cars would improve service and relieve crowding on the Red and Green lines.
$10 million in the 2004 budget for an environmental study on extending Metro tracks across the planned Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement. The bridge's design can accommodate a rail line, officials said.
$6 million from the current budget to restart an environmental study of the Inter-county Connector, a $1 billion-plus highway in the planning stages for decades that would run mainly through Montgomery County and link Interstate 270 with Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Townsend also said she would continue funding for planning and construction of the Purple Line Metro connector linking Bethesda and New Carrollton, a route closer to the Washington Beltway that could help revitalize older neighborhoods.
She also backed a rail line from Prince George's to Waldorf in Charles County.
Despite a projected $1.3 billion gap between revenues and expenses in the 2004 budget, Townsend said Maryland's current transportation commitments can be met and new ones added.
In a budget plan unveiled last week, Townsend proposed transferring $79 million from the state transportation trust fund into the general fund to pay for state operations. Yesterday, Townsend said the transfer would have no impact on projects because the $79 million would be replaced with borrowed money.
Townsend's commitment to Washington-area projects came the same day a new poll for The Sun showed her to be deadlocked with Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in the race for governor.
The poll indicates that Montgomery County, the state's largest jurisdiction, is pivotal for both candidates.
Montgomery voters note traffic as their top concern. The Sun poll showed that 38 percent of voters statewide believe Ehrlich would do a better job easing the state's transportation problems, compared with 31 percent for Townsend.
Ehrlich team responds
Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said Townsend's promises come too late.
"The fact is, cheese could have aged during the time Marylanders have spent sitting in traffic during the past eight years," she said.
"The current administration has had two full terms to make transit and road construction a priority, and they haven't," she said.
Stewart Schwartz, director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a network of environmental, civic and transit groups, said Townsend's support for the connector highway was misguided.
"We're concerned about that, but we're confident that another environmental impact study will show what the past ones have shown," Schwartz said, adding that Townsend's remaining priorities were laudable.
"It is a very strong endorsement of transit for the D.C. region, and we are very pleased by that," he said.
What about Baltimore?
Townsend has yet to release a similar plan for the Baltimore region, although she told an editorial board meeting of The Sun last week she supported construction of a new light rail line from Security Square to Fells Point.
"We finally have a vision for transit in the Baltimore region," said Dan Pontious, director of the Baltimore Regional Partnership. "We would certainly hope that Baltimore doesn't get left behind."
Also yesterday, Townsend received an endorsement from Baltimore City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. Mitchell's cousin, state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, is one of the most prominent Democrats who has endorsed Ehrlich.
"I'm not going to say he's wrong. Let's just say he and I disagree," Keiffer Mitchell said.