Move by transportation board angers some politicians

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

August 10, 2008|By LARRY CARSON

The move by the Ken Ulman-led Baltimore Regional Transportation Board to designate $340 million in future state transportation funding for mass transit projects has raised the ire of some politicians.

The board recently changed its long-range plan, known as Transportation Outlook 2035, to create more funding for mass transit projects. The shift away from highways came after transit advocacy groups complained that the plan tilted too heavily toward road projects.

But last week, officials who represent Howard's rural areas decried the change, saying it was unfair for their constituents to pay gasoline taxes to fund mass transit that they rarely use.

"It sounds like some Marylanders are going to get a free ride at the expense of others," fumed Del. Warren E. Miller, a western county Republican who says gasoline tax money ought to go exclusively to highways. Transit should be funded separately, he said.

Miller, Del. Gail H. Bates and Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, all Republicans, said that despite high gas prices and growing demand for bus and train service and parking, transit passengers should pay more through higher fares, which cover less than half the cost of the service.

"Oh, come on. We're going to be putting in more mass transit that doesn't even begin to pay for itself?" Bates asked. "I think we're slighting my taxpayers."

Kittleman said he was "disappointed" with the move. "I want to make sure we continue to improve the intersections of Route 32," he said.

But Ulman, Howard County's executive and a Democrat who is chairman of the regional board, said the decision won't change the commitment to current highway projects, such as making Route 32 safer and widening northbound U.S. 29 near Columbia.

"My focus is on treading the appropriate balance between roads and mass transit," Ulman said. "Clearly, we need to continue to offer roads to get people where they're going, but we also need multimodal transit."

The former county executive, state Sen. James N. Robey, a Democrat, agreed.

"I've always believed mass transit is the way to save traffic congestion on the roads," he said.

All agree that there's not enough money to do everything. The estimated $340 million averages $17 million per year over the plan's two decades. Sharply higher construction costs and falling revenues because of the slowing economy add to the funding problem.

"Some people feel we can build our way out of this by building more roads, but that's a shortsighted focus," Ulman said.

"The bottom line in all this is the public wants options," he said. "We see it from the petitions we get. They want a [transit] system that works, especially in the Baltimore region."

Weathersbee's leaving

Lara C. Weathersbee, a senior assistant Howard County state's attorney who sought appointment as county state's attorney this year, is leaving the prosecutor's office after 13 years.

Weathersbee, who supervises the juvenile division, had significant political support for her bid to be the county's top prosecutor. Former State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone, who resigned in December to become a Circuit Court judge, and County Executive Ken Ulman both publicly favored Weathersbee, the daughter of Frank Weathersbee, the Anne Arundel County state's attorney.

But the three Howard County Circuit judges who chose a replacement for McCrone picked nine-year deputy state's attorney Dario J. Broccolino to fill out McCrone's term.

Weathersbee said she is leaving her county job by month's end to enter private practice doing civil law at the firm of Weinberg, Schwartz and Steyer in Columbia. She did not explain her reasons for resigning.

Broccolino's term lasts until the 2010 statewide elections.

Ulman on the roof

How far will a politician go to satisfy a constituent?

Ken Ulman climbed to the roof of the George Howard Building on Wednesday afternoon to do just that.

At real estate agent Pat Hiban's request, Ulman provided a Howard County flag that Hiban carried with him to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania on July 21 while on vacation. To mark the occasion, Ulman, Hiban and about 15 of Hiban's relatives and employees climbed to the roof, where Ulman read a proclamation declaring July 21 "Pat Hiban Day." Then they held the flag and grinned for pictures.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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