Billions for state roads, transit appear near

House plan would help fund 6 years of projects

July 29, 2005|By Gwyneth K. Shaw | Gwyneth K. Shaw,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- A huge $286 billion plan for the nation's highways and transit systems is likely to win final congressional approval today, after a last-minute snag delayed a House vote last night.

A provision -- inserted by a senator during negotiations between the House and Senate -- to try to reopen a runway at a Montana military base drew the ire of House leaders, who decided to put off a planned late-night vote and try to force the Senate to back down.

Both chambers are trying to complete work today, in order to begin a recess that will last until after Labor Day.

Maryland would receive $2.9 billion in federal highway funds and more than $900 million for mass transit over the six-year period covered by the bill.

The measure is a blueprint for transportation spending, and the annual budget process will determine exactly how much federal money gets parceled out.

Among Maryland projects in the measure are several aimed at preparing the Baltimore region for an anticipated influx of thousands of new government workers at Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade.

It would authorize $12.5 million to help ease congestion on state Route 175, between Route 170 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, in Anne Arundel County. The area around Aberdeen would be in line for $8 million for an interchange linking eastbound U.S. 40 to northbound Route 715. Edgewood's MARC station could get a $1.5 million upgrade, including more parking and better lighting.

Across the city

A number of projects for Baltimore are included. The bill authorizes continued development of proposed Red Line commuter service, which would run, possibly as light rail or rapid bus service, from Woodlawn to downtown Baltimore, and an extension of the subway's Green Line to Morgan State University. The bill also would set $12.5 million to help finish double-tracking the light rail system.

According to Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, the state's share of federal transit funding would rise by about $275 million over the six years -- to $846 million from $571 million. The state's annual share of federal highway spending is also expected to grow, from about $443 million to roughly $583 million by 2009.

The federal dollars represent only a portion of project costs, which are also shared, in most cases, by state and local governments.

Also included in the measure are plans to spend $3.2 million for the second phase of the Jones Falls Trail, running from Penn Station to the Maryland Science Center, and $9 million for projects around a planned East Baltimore biotechnology park, just north of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The money would help pay for a traffic circle, new street and park areas, and the purchase of right-of-way for a future rail corridor.

Some of the city's drawbridges would be rehabilitated under the measure, including $7.5 million for the Pennington Avenue span. Also, $3.5 million is planned for widening the southwest side of the Baltimore Beltway, and $1.2 million would go toward a project to widen a segment of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway as part of an effort to improve access to Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Projects elsewhere

Other federal spending on Maryland projects would include $15 million for Interstate 70 in the Frederick area, $5 million toward a bus facility in Howard County and $16 million for an interchange where Route 5, Route 373 and Brandywine Road meet in Southern Maryland.

Two roads in Howard County also are designated for federal aid: $3 million for Route 32 between Route 108 and I-70, and $5.4 million for expansion of U.S. 29.

The measure calls for federal planning funds for the Inter-County Connector, a proposed road linking Gaithersburg and Interstate 95. Some of the proposed spending remained sketchy as lawmakers put finishing touches on the bill.

The highway bill has been held up for nearly two years as House, Senate and White House negotiators sparred over how much would be spent and where the money would go. The measure is retroactive to 2004, meaning that, in some cases, it would authorize federal reimbursement for money that has already been spent.

"These dollars will affect just about every person in our region, in one way or another," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat and one of the negotiators on the final version of the bill.

`Good for Maryland'

Sarbanes said a small increase in the amount each state is guaranteed to receive as its share of federal highway spending -- a key sticking point -- would benefit Maryland. Lawmakers agreed during final negotiations to reimburse states for at least 92 percent of what they send to the federal highway trust fund each year by 2008. The current figure is 90.5 percent.

"I think it's good for Maryland," said Sarbanes, another negotiator on the final bill. "We strengthened the formula, which sends us more money."

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