$140 million for BRAC proposed

Money would go to intersections, schools

January 17, 2008|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun Reporter

The O'Malley administration proposed yesterday pouring nearly $140 million into upgrading congested intersections around Maryland's growing military bases, while spending a like amount on school construction to ease classroom crowding as the state braces for an influx of tens of thousands of new defense workers over the next few years.

As part of its $1.5 billion capital budget for fiscal 2009, the administration is proposing $46 million for improving traffic signals and turn lanes at intersections around Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County, with nearly $48 million planned for similar upgrades around Fort Meade. Those two Maryland posts are expected to see the most growth from the nationwide military base realignment.

An additional $45 million would go to upgrading intersections around the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, where expansion is also planned.

Commonly called BRAC, the base realignment is projected to bring 15,000 defense workers and their families to Maryland by 2011, though some have estimated that the growth in jobs and households could be several times larger.

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who has been overseeing the O'Malley administration's preparations for base realignment, said the spending plan would be a major down payment on accommodating the base workers and their families. The state is projecting spending $1.7 billion on base-related transportation projects over the next six years, he said.

"We are where we need to be at this point in time," he said. "I mean, are we ready for 28,000 households and 60,000 jobs to show up on Feb. 1, 2008? No, we're not. Are we where we need to be to accommodate those jobs by 2011? The answer is a resounding yes."

About $141 million for new and renovated schools - two-thirds of the classroom projects approved - are in counties likely to be affected by base growth, officials say.

Many of the projects planned around the bases were in the works because of the growth already occurring there, state officials said.

"The improvements will help everybody, whether you're a BRAC [base] employee or someone who lives in the region," said Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari.

The governor also included funding for several large-scale projects that could help ease gridlock around bases, notably $201 million for expanding and enhancing MARC commuter rail service statewide, plus $20 million for boosting commuter bus service.

Besides transportation and schools, the state plans to spend $182 million to expand water and sewage treatment systems in the counties expected to get a share of the base-related growth. Another $3 million was earmarked for improving college and university training for base workers and their families.

The state spending plan pleased local officials worried about how they were going to handle the extra base-related growth likely to come their way.

"It sounds like a good start," said Robert Leib, special assistant to Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold.

In addition to the base projects, the governor's $1.5 billion capital budget for fiscal 2009 contains:

$201 million for the state's colleges and universities, including money to finish a new physical education complex at Coppin State University and a new oyster hatchery at the university system's Horn Point laboratory, plus design money for a new law school at University of Baltimore.

Nearly $48 million to build a larger laboratory for the chief medical examiner in Baltimore, providing more and better space for autopsies.

$33.6 million for three new medevac helicopters, the first step in a four-year plan to replace the Maryland State Police's aging fleet of 12 Dauphin helicopters.

$3 million for new roofs and better animal holding areas and exhibits, among other things, at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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