State says deal reached on mass transit plan

Funds hinge on delegate supporting governor's bill

March 06, 2004|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said last night that the Ehrlich administration has reached a deal with a powerful Baltimore legislator that could bring $17 million to the city to begin planning for an east-west mass transit route.

Flanagan said the agreement with Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, chairwoman of the House Environmental Matters Committee, is contingent on passage of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s bill to provide an additional $320 million a year in transportation revenue and on the Baltimore Democrat's support for it.

Flanagan said the administration would begin the planning process without deciding whether rail or bus lines would be the best link between Woodlawn and the Canton area.

He acknowledged the position is a reversal of Ehrlich's previous stance favoring a rapid-bus route for the corridor.

Mayor Martin O'Malley, a longtime advocate of an expanded commuter rail system for Baltimore, welcomed Flanagan's statement.

"It's very welcome news in a very bleak session for everyone who's been advocating for better public transportation in the Baltimore metro area," O'Malley said.

An agreement on the so-called Red Line, which would intersect the current Green Line running from Owings Mills to Johns Hopkins Hospital, would give Baltimore lawmakers a reason to support Ehrlich's legislation despite misgivings over the governor's proposed funding sources.

Ehrlich rejected an increase in the gasoline tax and proposed an increase in vehicle registration fees as the largest source of new revenue for the Transportation Trust Fund.

McIntosh could not be reached to comment last night. In an interview earlier yesterday, she indicated a willingness to work with the administration despite her disagreement with Ehrlich's approach.

"I'm willing to help the administration to some degree on this bill. It is not what I like or want," she said, adding that near-unanimous Republican support will be necessary for the bill to pass.

McIntosh, a Democrat, leads one of the two House committees that must act on the transportation legislation. The chairwoman of the other panel, Democratic Del. Sheila E. Hixson of the Ways and Means Committee, is a strong advocate of a gasoline tax increase.

The bill still faces significant hurdles in a General Assembly dominated by Democrats.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said he's finding little enthusiasm for the revenue package - which includes a variety of fee increases and surcharges on driving-related offenses - in the Democratic caucus.

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