Maryland's top transportation priorities should include widening the Baltimore Beltway, making Route 295 six lanes near BWI Marshall Airport and building the city's Red Line light rail, a national transportation group said Wednesday.
The recommendations were part of a 40-item wish list compiled by TRIP, a nonprofit research organization sponsored by the construction industry, insurance companies and unions.
"These are game-changing projects," said Frank Moretti, TRIP's director of policy and research. "They are going to make a big difference to Maryland."
Investing in the state's roads, bridges and transit systems "will boost the state's economy in the short term by creating jobs in construction and related fields. In the long term, these improvements will enhance economic competitiveness and improve the quality of life for the state's residents and visitors," the report said.
The state's top priority should be spending $5.8 billion to widen the Capital Beltway, from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to the American Legion Bridge, the report said. The beltway would gain extra rush-hour capacity by adding high-occupancy toll lanes and reversible lanes. Virginia is widening its portion of the beltway by two lanes in each direction.
The No. 2 project is replacing the two-lane Governor Harry W. Nice Bridge, which carries U.S. 301 over the Potomac River in Charles County, with an $885 million, four-lane span.
The Baltimore region is represented by 11 projects with a total price tag of $4.96 billion. At No. 3 overall is a $1.2 billion plan to widen the Baltimore Beltway and replace a number of bridges. The region's most expensive project is the $2.2 billion to build the Red Line between Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and Woodlawn. The light rail is ranked No. 7.
The report also said a $220 million proposal to widen three miles of Route 295 between Route 100 and Interstate 195 and building a new interchange at Hanover Road are No. 6 because they would improve access to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
The list includes three projects totaling $649 million to ease traffic congestion associated with Base Realignment and Closure at Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Those plans would widen Routes 175 and 198 in Anne Arundel County and upgrade six intersections in Harford County.
The other regional projects:
•$104 million to widen Route 29 northbound in Howard County to three lanes from two lanes.
•$275 million to widen 7.5 miles of Route 32 in Carroll and Howard counties.
•$612 million to add tracks on MARC's Penn Line and add two MARC/Amtrak platforms at BWI.
•$291 million to widen nine miles of Route 32 in Howard County to four lanes between Route 108 and I-70.
•$25 million to relocate the Martin MARC station in Baltimore County to the south side of Route 43.
Paying for transportation projects has sparked political fights in Annapolis and Washington this year. Congress approved a 90-day stopgap transportation bill last week while it grapples with finding funding sources, and Maryland lawmakers refused to approve a proposal by Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration to apply the state sales tax to gasoline.
Last year, TRIP painted a gloomy picture of the condition of local roads, contending that congestion and deteriorating roads were costing the typical Baltimore driver $2,226 a year in maintenance and wasted gas and time.
"In the past, we've come to town to say, 'This is where the problems are.' This time we're saying, 'This is where the solutions are,'" said Moretti. "The public is going to respond to sound transportation policy with goals and priorities. That's going to get the dialogue started."
TRIP ranked each transportation project by taking into account short-term economic benefits, safety improvements, increased access and mobility, and potential long-term economic benefits, Moretti said.
He acknowledged that the organization stands to benefit from road and transit construction projects, but said the proposals already were identified by state and federal transportation officials as vital projects.
"We just ranked them," he said.