Lean times limit wishes

Baltimore County executive won't get all the state transportation money he wants

November 11, 2008|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,nick.madigan@baltsun.com

Wish list in hand, Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. asked state transportation officials yesterday for millions of dollars to pay for improvements to roads, bridges and train stations, but a tough economy means he will not get everything he wants.

In a meeting in Towson, Smith told John D. Porcari, Maryland's secretary of transportation, that with an expected influx of residents under the military's Base Realignment and Closure process, "it is imperative that we have the appropriate infrastructure to accommodate the new residents and jobs that we anticipate adding to this area."

Chief among his requests was an upgrade for Pulaski Highway, a road dotted with auto-repair shops and adult-entertainment establishments in eastern Baltimore County that Smith said should undergo a thorough beautification from the Harford County line to the edge of Baltimore City.

But Porcari responded that while the Pulaski Highway upgrade and a couple of other projects can go ahead, these "lean" economic times will mean that most of the remaining items on Smith's list will have to remain wishes, at least for now.

Speaking in the County Council's chambers, Porcari said that for the six-year period beginning in 2009, the Transportation Trust Fund - which aggregates money from motor-vehicle titling and registration fees, fuel and auto sales taxes, federal aid, operating revenues and bond sales - will be short by $1.1 billion. At the same time, he said, capital-improvement costs have gone up considerably - steel prices by 35 percent, liquid asphalt by 105 percent, and diesel fuel by 40 percent.

"When you take these numbers together," Porcari said, "you see that we can do far less than what we projected earlier this year." He said the Transportation Department's priority is maintenance of its existing infrastructure.

As things stand now, however, the state is committed to spending the $10 million allocated for the Pulaski Highway upgrade, which will include resurfacing, construction of an "aesthetically treated" divider and other landscaping, and bicycle lanes.

Porcari said the state would also pay $42 million for lengthening and widening the Charles Street bridge over Interstate 695 and $29 million in planning and engineering costs for improvements to the interchange at Dolfield Boulevard and Interstate 795 in Owings Mills.

"U.S. 40 is a 'Main Street' linking Baltimore, Harford and Cecil counties, as well as Baltimore City," he said. "This is the area that will be most affected by the BRAC expansion at Aberdeen Proving Ground. In Baltimore County, the corridor has a large inventory of low-intensity land-uses and thus offers tremendous potential to accommodate BRAC-related growth."

State officials have already approved a plan to upgrade Pulaski Highway between White Marsh Boulevard and Middle River Road.

Turning to the Middle River area, Smith said the imminence of the BRAC process and the development of White Marsh Boulevard suggests that it would be wise to expand the MARC station there by moving it across the street. He said the county would like to relocate the station to the east side of White Marsh Boulevard, allowing it to be part of the redevelopment of a 2 million-square-foot former General Services Administration facility that was auctioned last year to a private investor for $37.5 million.

"We understand the state's fiscal limitations," Smith said after the meeting, "and now more than ever, we appreciate the administration's collaborative spirit and willingness to work together to ensure that critical transportation projects move forward - especially those with economic development potential."

Afterward, Porcari said he saw the MARC station project as "a tremendous opportunity for a public-private partnership."

"Even in the best of times," he said, "there are more legitimate needs than we have funding for, and it's even harder in a down economy."

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