`News is not good' for road funds, state tells county officials

Among projects affected are Route 30 bypass, Route 32 improvements

November 13, 2003|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Maryland's transportation secretary told Carroll leaders yesterday that the state lacks the money to move forward on road projects that are designed to relieve congestion and improve highway safety in the county.

The meeting in Westminster was Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan's latest stop on a tour across Maryland to discuss the state's transportation needs and the $10.5 billion of highway work that has not been funded.

It was also the third meeting with Carroll officials in as many weeks to talk about road projects considered important to the county, including the Route 30 bypass around Hampstead and improvements on Route 32 between Eldersburg and the Howard County line.

"The news is not good," Flanagan told county commissioners. "The prior [transportation] secretary in the last two years has been telling counties that there is no new money for projects. That's the same conclusion I came to."

"We are essentially dead in the water," he said, referring to the state's depleted Transportation Trust Fund. "It's like a car on the beltway that has run out of gas."

There is no construction money for the bypass project, long considered the county's top road priority. Planning and preliminary engineering have been completed on the proposed Route 30 bypass around Hampstead, but an additional $13 million to acquire land and another $40 million for construction are still needed.

In September, Flanagan floated the idea of a toll for commuters as a possible funding solution for the proposed $48 million road, which would wind through a six-mile stretch west of town. Yesterday, the secretary repeated the idea, saying it still needs to be studied.

Hampstead Mayor Haven Shoemaker, who was among the two dozen or so residents and municipal leaders at the meeting, told Flanagan that whatever funding mechanism would work, "you'll have the full support of the town."

While the idea of collecting tolls on the Route 30 bypass is discussed, Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said after the meeting, leaders should keep an "open mind."

"I feel at this point, it's important for us to listen to what they're saying and keep an open mind and do things that would be productive to building the road in the future," she said.

Plans to improve Route 26 in Eldersburg would also be stalled without $30 million in state money for final engineering, land acquisition and construction. Also, a proposal to widen Route 32 between Eldersburg and the Howard County has yet to move beyond the idea stage.

Flanagan said any new transportation revenues would be used to pay for projects around the state other than the proposed $1.7 billion Intercounty Connector in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s top transportation priority.

Flanagan said tolls and bonds would fund the ICC, as the road is known, under the Ehrlich administration's financing plan.

Also at the meeting, transportation officials described roadway projects in Carroll County that are under construction.

They include:

Widening and rebuilding bridges on Route 140 over northbound Route 97 and Route 27 in the Westminster area.

Building a bridge over the Patapsco River on Sykesville Road.

Replacing a bridge over Meadow Branch on Baust Church Road in Taneytown.

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