No state funding for Meade transit projects

County needs $5 billion for worker influx

October 17, 2007|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,SUN REPORTER

No state funding is available to build road, bus and parking projects around Fort Meade to support the influx of thousands of new workers, the state's transportation secretary told Anne Arundel County officials and lawmakers this week.

As the state pushes ahead with widening a 1 1/2 -mile stretch of Baltimore-Washington Parkway near BWI-Marshall Airport and replacing a bridge near National Business Park at the Anne Arundel-Howard County line, there is little money in the six-year capital budget to do anything else but preserve infrastructure in Anne Arundel or statewide.

"Our backs are against the wall," Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said after his formal remarks Monday afternoon on the draft Consolidated Transportation Program. "The real concern is that many of these worthy projects can't be funded."

They include a five-mile reconstruction of Route 175 near Fort Meade; a two-mile widening of Route 198, also near the Army post; a nine-mile overhaul of Route 3 from Gambrills to the Prince George's County line; a 2,500-car parking garage at the Odenton MARC station; and a transit facility near Tipton Airport to ferry commuter buses.

In all, county officials say they need $5 billion to build the transportation infrastructure to handle 22,000 workers coming to Fort Meade within five years. But state officials reiterated yesterday that without a $400 million annual increase to the Transportation Trust Fund, as called for last month by Gov. Martin O'Malley, they cannot afford to meet these demands and others around Maryland.

Porcari said a revenue increase, such as raising the state gasoline tax, is needed to "maintain and improve our system."

O'Malley has called for a special session of the General Assembly, set for Oct. 29, to address several tax increases proposed by the governor. The gas tax, which has not been raised since 1993, is not slated to be under consideration. State officials said the gas tax could go up by 2009 if the lawmakers approve an increase to the trust fund.

Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., Democratic chairman of a subcommittee that deals with public safety, transportation and environmental issues, said it would be an "easier sell" to raise taxes for transportation than for tackling the $1.7 billion structural deficit.

"It's something people can see and feel," he said. "People know when they are riding on a good road."

County Executive John R. Leopold, a Republican, said the state's transportation demands justify higher taxes.

But Leopold reiterated his call for a "constitutional firewall" to restore public trust that the Transportation Trust Fund will be used for what it has been intended. Previous governors have drawn hundreds of millions of dollars from that fund to help balance the state budget.

"Any hope of achieving any bipartisan support must start with strong support for a constitutional amendment for this firewall," Leopold said.

Transportation officials are announcing the draft capital budget in each of the state's 24 major jurisdictions. Monday's presentation marked the ninth given since mid-September.

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