With the everpresent budget crunch hanging over proceedings in the County Council chambers, county officials met Oct. 27 with representatives of the Maryland Department of Transportation to discuss capital projects.
Officials at the Thursday meeting tried to balance the high cost of two key transportation projects — namely a relocated MARC Station near Martin State Airport and upgrades to Reisterstown Road — against what they said is a higher payback in potential job and economic growth.
"As public servants, we have to prioritize our needs," County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said. "Baltimore County is committed to investing in service and infrastucture that will promote growth and protect stability in our communities."
Kamenetz gave top billing to the two projects as the county's priority entering the next fiscal year.
The first involves a transit-oriented project at the Martin State Airport MARC Station that calls for the station to be relocated to the east side of Route 43 and expanded from its current size.
The Maryland Department of Transportation, or MDOT, has recently completed a feasibility study for the project. A letter from Kamenetz to Secretary of Transportation Beverley Swaim-Staley said the study "provides a strong factual basis" for future development at the relocated station.
"What a fantastic location that's at the terminus of Route 43, Martin State Airport, and the MARC train line," Kamenetz said. "It really is a great convex where we can accelerate the opportunities for transit-oriented development, but also promote the needs of the MARC train line."
Sixth District Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who represents Middle River, called the project "so essential" to the development and revitalization of the area that will have a positive impact on job creation.
The other project is one that Kamenetz said he has followed since he was a councilman for the area — improvements to Reisterstown Road at Painters Mill Road.
"As we have mentioned in the past, the pace of development in Owings Mills … and the new transit-oriented development slated for the Metro Center site will require upgrades to Reisterstown Road and its associated intersections sooner than expected," said Kamenetz in his letter.
"Rather than simply widening Reisterstown Road, which involves substantial and costly property taxes and business interruption, we suggest consideration of design and parallel access roads on both sides of Reisterstown Road."
While Swaim-Staley said that she appreciated Kamenetz' direct approach and adherence to MDOT's request to submit a list of their highest priorities, she indicated that even one project in each jurisdiction would have a hefty price tag.
"We estimate that (the No. 1 priority from each of the 24 jurisdictions), in today's dollars, would cost $12 billion," Swaim-Staley said. "It's really not feasible to think that we'll be able to address those needs the way that we should be."
Swaim-Staley indicated that tax revenues from the state have picked up from recession levels, but even that bump isn't enough to fund the projects.
"The really sobering fact is that even with the current revenue sources we have, there's just not enough to sustain and grow our transportation program the way we need to," Swaim-Staley said.
Loss of funds
Kamenetz lamented the loss of state highway usage funds, which he said has cost the county an average of $43 million in each of the last five years.
And even though the General Assembly restored some highway use funds to the budget, Kamenetz told officials that he was disappointed that Baltimore County wasn't named a beneficiary of that money.
"It was only restored to those counties who had municipalities," he said. "Baltimore County and Howard County are the only jurisdictions in this state that do not have any incorporated municipalities, so I think that was entirely unfair to recognize that factor."
Even with the loss of more than $200 million in state funding, Kamenetz said the county has allocated $25 million for road resurfacing and $9.6 million for road repairs in the current budget.
"Ongoing maintenance of Baltimore County's infrastructure is an essential expenditure for maintaining our quality of life and, obviously, to support investment in our future," Kamenetz said.
Local project updates
The State Highway Administration provided an update on its interstate construction projects at the meeting, with several local projects under way or nearing completion.
A $52 million construction project that will widen the Charles Street overpass over Interstate 695 is far along, with completion expected in summer 2013.
Bridge replacements on Frederick Road over 695, and on 695 over Liberty Road, are also under way, both of which will widen the bridges to accommodate the future capacity needs of I-695.
And the bridge on Route 40 that connects Howard and Baltimore counties is being rehabilitated "to preserve the historic nature of the structure and to blend in with its Patapsco State Park setting." Temporary bridges that allow for traffic to use the road during construction should be in place by the end of the year, officials said.