House approves highway plan at cost of $284 billion

Maryland would receive millions for mass transit, ICC and other projects

March 11, 2005|By Gwyneth K. Shaw | Gwyneth K. Shaw,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The House easily passed a $284 billion highway measure yesterday that could shower transportation cash all over the country - including millions in Maryland.

Over the five-year period covered by the legislation, ending in 2009, the state would be in line to receive as much as $3.4 billion in highway funding. Maryland will not get everything state officials asked for, but the bill does authorize funding for mass transit projects, including $156 million to expand the MARC rail line, and several road-construction projects.

The legislation has yet to gain approval from the Senate and President Bush - a combination that has stymied passage the past two years.

Bush has threatened to veto this year's version if it costs more than the House bill. In addition, the measure only sets up a budget framework for federal transportation projects; states must obtain the money each year through the congressional spending process.

Baltimore-area lawmakers said they think the measure will succeed. Also, they said they're excited about what they consider a major step forward: The bill would make the proposed Red and Green mass-transit projects in Baltimore eligible for federal money.

"I think we are now certainly on the road to getting these projects, and I think they'll mean a lot to the area," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Local lawmakers convinced Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to put the lines on the state's wish list. Yesterday, state Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan expressed excitement about the designation.

The proposed Red Line would run from Woodlawn to downtown Baltimore. The Green Line would extend the city's main subway line to Morgan State University.

"It's a ticket to compete for future federal funding," Flanagan said. "This keeps us on track for each of those projects, and we could see construction beginning at the end of the decade at the earliest."

The measure also designates two other proposed state projects for future federal money: the Corridor Cities Transitway, running between Shady Grove and Frederick, and the Bi-County Transitway, formerly known as the Purple Line, to connect New Carrollton and Shady Grove in the Washington suburbs.

The only money that appears to be available for the controversial Intercounty Connector is $10 million for design and engineering work, with the mandate that the road have the minimal amount of environmental impact.

The vote in favor of the measure was 417-9, with all eight House members from Maryland voting in favor.

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat, said the odds are good that the legislation will pass, even if Bush were to cast the first veto of his presidency.

"I would hope that, if necessary, this could be the first veto override by the Congress of the president," Cardin said. "There is strong support for this bill, and I think it is going to become law."

Cummings agreed, saying that state governors are pressuring the White House to put new legislation in place for roads. The old law expired in 2003 and has been extended by Congress six times.

Now, he said, it's important to protect Maryland's piece of the federal pie.

"The key is contact," Cummings said. "We just have to keep talking and be vigilant, and I think we'll be fine."

Md. projects in highway bill

Among the Maryland projects included in a highway bill approved by the House:

$156 million for enhancements to the MARC commuter rail line.

$6.8 million for the expansion of Route 29 in Howard County.

$4.4 million for the widening of Interstate 695.

$4.7 million to improve access to Baltimore-Washington International Airport from Route 295.

$10 million for design and engineering for the Intercounty Connector, with an emphasis on making the road environmentally compatible.

$200,000 to study traffic flow and future highway needs in the Towson area.

$3 million to reconstruct roadways over five CSX rail bridges in Baltimore.

$3 million for a pedestrian bridge and parking garage at Coppin State University.

$3.8 million to expand Route 32 in Howard County.

$8.5 million for redevelopment of roads in the East Baltimore Biotechnology Park.

$5 million for construction of a new Greyhound terminal in Baltimore.

$5 million for construction of the Central Maryland Transit Operations and Maintenance Facility in Howard County.

$900,000 for improvements to roadways and trails connecting to the Gwynn Falls Trail in West Baltimore.

$4 million for construction of a park-and-ride garage at the intersection of Clinton Street and Keith Avenue, for commuters who would take a proposed ferry to the downtown area.

$4 million to extend the Jones Falls Trail in Baltimore to the Inner Harbor and connect it to the Gwynns Falls Trail.

$900,000 for improvements to roadways and trails connecting to the Gwynn Falls Trail in West Baltimore.

$1 million for construction of the first section of the South Shore Trail, which will run from Annapolis to Odenton along an abandoned rail line.

The measure has not been approved by the Senate and President Bush. It would require separate action by Congress and the president to actually provide money to fund the projects.

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