Md. cities reveal their stimulus wish lists

January 14, 2009|By Liz F. Kay and Tyeesha Dixon | Liz F. Kay and Tyeesha Dixon,liz.kay@baltsun.com and tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

As the incoming administration puts together an enormous stimulus plan to jump-start the beleaguered economy, Baltimore and Annapolis are among the cities gathering a long list of projects they say are worthy of investment.

After meeting with advisers to President-elect Barack Obama in Chicago last month - and briefly with Obama himself - members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors compiled a list of more than 15,000 "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects, estimated to cost $96 billion, that could create more than 1 million jobs.

Baltimore added more than $300 million worth of school improvements, roads and other projects to the list, and Annapolis tacked on nearly $80 million.

But even if money flows from Washington, it's not clear what the final criteria for selecting projects might be.

"None of us exactly know how it's going to be structured," said Baltimore Deputy Mayor Andy Frank.

The mayors group has lobbied for the money to go directly to cities instead of passing through state coffers, where it would be subject to funding allocation formulas.

"We're just preparing ourselves," Frank said. "Our responsibility is to make sure we have a clear list and when we know what the criteria is, we're ready with a list of projects."

Many of the proposals would improve the quality of life in Baltimore, city officials say.

"We'd like to see a connection between stimulus spending and making the city more livable," Frank said.

The projects are ones that city officials believe are either fully designed, and thus would meet the federal government's "shovel-ready" standard, or will be within the next six months, Frank said.

Some of the money would resurrect projects that have stalled because of the economic downturn.

Several transportation requests, including replacement of traffic detectors and more equipment for traffic management systems, reflect the decreased amount of money flowing from the state, Frank said.

Highway funds from gas taxes have declined during the recession, so "there are projects that are ready to go that we do not have full funding for," he said.

The 38 projects total more than $300 million in improvements, estimated to create more than 2,000 jobs. They range in price from as low as $350,000 for fire safety improvements at Thomas G. Hayes Elementary School in East Baltimore up to $50 million for improvements to the Lake Montebello water reservoir.

For Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, environmental projects and public safety are the top concerns when it comes to requesting funds from the economic stimulus package.

"I'm going to choose those that would have long-lasting implications for positive change," Moyer said.

Her "wishes," which total more than $75 million, include projects that are under way and have been passed by the city council.

Among those that Moyer gives highest priority are the projects that would have the broadest impact on city and state residents. The Annapolis EZ program, for example, is a loan program that helps residents retrofit their properties with technology such as solar panels that would allow them to increase energy efficiency. The program is a private-public partnership, one that Moyer said is the first of its kind in the state.

"We've developed an innovative program that no one else has yet," Moyer said. She asked for $2.65 million for the project.

Moyer requested $11 million to move utility lines underground on several streets in the city's historic district.

"If we get the money, we can do it now," she said.

The mayor would also like to see the city's roads repaired and maintained. The price tag is $1.8 million.

"We have 94 miles of roads to pave, and some of them need a lot of work," she said. The program Moyer is most eager to start is a nutrient-reduction program, a model initiative that would allow the city to test a new technology that takes nitrogen out of water. Moyer hopes the $329,000 technology can be used in a lagoon in Back Creek that contains oysters.

The water would be tested regularly to see whether the nitrogen is removed and whether oysters could eventually be safely farmed.

"I think it has broader implications for the health of the bay," she said.

PROJECTS

Baltimore: 38 projects

Public safety: $12 million

Schools: $78 million

Streets/roads: $113 million

Water: $121 million

Annapolis: 16 projects

Energy: $17 million

Public safety: $19 million

Streets/roads: $2.8 million

Transit: $2.4 million

Water: $36 million

Source: U.S. Conference of Mayors

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