Zimmer is lobbying for U.S. 29 annex

However, Porcari discourages county's push for federal funds

March 11, 2007|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

Maryland's new secretary of transportation is discouraging a Carroll County commissioner from lobbying for federal dollars for a highway project that is also underscoring growing tensions on the local board.Commissioner Michael D. Zimmer'sproposed extension of U.S. 29 from Howard Countywould bisect Carroll and include bypasses of Westminster and Taneytown.

"We would encourage the county not to pursue separate federal ... funding for independent projects," Secretary John D. Porcari recently wrote in a letter to Zimmer. "Rather, we encourage the county to work with the department on projects of mutual interest."

Zimmer's plan, which calls for developing U.S. 29 along existing roads by outfitting those routes for high-volume traffic and building bypasses, could easily cost billions of dollars, according to state highway engineer David Coyne.

But re-designating portions of state Route 32, Route 26, Route 97 and Route 140 as part of U.S. 29 would not make those routes eligible to receive federal funding, Porcari said in his Feb. 20 letter.

"It is doubtful that the route proposed would be approved to be designated as an extension of U.S. 29," Porcari wrote.

Zimmer independently sent letters to numerous federal and state officials about his vision for the U.S. highway project, rather than crafting a letter with the two Republican Commissioners, Julia Walsh Gouge and Dean L. Minnich.

Normally, the three commissioners would meet as a board and come to a consensus before sending out a joint letter on an issue of concern, Gouge and Minnich have said.

Minnich and Gouge recently clashed with Zimmer over the county's bond authorization bill. The county requested $80 million in bond authorization from the legislature, but Zimmer wrote to Sen. Larry E. Haines, head of the Carroll County delegation, separately to request a $70 million bill. Now the bill is held up and could be killed, Gouge said.

"If we don't put in our priorities as a group, as a board of commissioners, basically they're not going to even be looked at," Gouge said. "We're hoping we can sit down as a board in the next week or two, and really go over what good procedures are to keep one another informed. We need to make sure we're all in agreement before anything happens."

Zimmer said a task force on the highway proposal, which he formed with county planning director Steve Horn, Sykesville town manager Matthew H. Candland and Carroll Area Transit System president Neal Roop, planned to continue meeting every other month.

But Gouge said that the task force may now be unnecessary.

Zimmer said he sent an information packet and cover letter on behalf of the task force to about 50 federal officials and agencies, including U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin and Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Steny H. Hoyer and Elijah E. Cummings.

When Gouge and Zimmer met with Mikulski in Washington on Monday, they briefly discussed Carroll's transportation projects, according to Mikulski's spokeswoman.

Realizing the obstacles such a highway project would face, Zimmer said he was not trying to lobby for federal funds.

"We aren't expecting the red carpet treatment just because we sent somebody a letter," he said. "We realize there's a good deal more to look into."

Zimmer said Horn told the task force that Route 32 in South Carroll would not be widened until additional lanes are completed on Route 32 in Howard County.

When Zimmer unveiled his U.S. 29 proposal in January, some county officials said federal highway funds could expedite projects the state has not funded along the Route 32 corridor and around Taneytown. Adding lanes to Route 32 in each direction between Interstate 70 and Route 26 would alleviate congestion and spur business development in growing South Carroll, county officials have said. So far, the state has acknowledged the project but has not committed to funding.

The county has guaranteed $2.5 million toward a state project on a half-mile portion of Route 32 to ease congestion and reduce accidents. Reconstruction on this project is set to begin this summer.

Currently, less than a mile of U.S. highway - Interstate 70 in Mount Airy - runs through Carroll County.

Local residents quashed previous attempts in the 1990s to extend I-795 through the county and into Pennsylvania.

Bringing in more industrial development is dependent on improving Carroll's limited network of roads, growth consultant Uri P. Avin recently stressed in a report for the county's Economic Development Commission.

"There's a good deal of frustration with the pace of moving projects from an idea to an actual project on the ground," Zimmer said of highway improvements. "Maybe we'll be able to break through somehow."

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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