A wish list of much-needed highway construction projects in Howard County will have to remain just that — a wish list.
A national transportation issues advocacy group has suggested numerous projects around Maryland that would decrease traffic congestion and help with safety and economic development. But state officials say the costs are too high for a cash-strapped government.
"The money just doesn't exist to undertake massive projects," said Jack Cahalan, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation.
The advocacy group, TRIP, released a report earlier this month ranking its top 40 transportation projects. Three of the suggestions are in Howard County.
No. 8 on the list calls for an estimated $104 million for widening northbound Route 29 from two lanes to three for a portion of the highway between Seneca Drive and Route 175.
No. 15 proposes $275 million for widening the section of Route 32 between Interstate 70 up to Route 26 in Carroll County. And No. 19 suggests $291 million for upgrading another section of Route 32, this one between Route 108 and I-70.
TRIP's priority list differs from the state's, which compiles requests each year from the 23 counties and Baltimore City, Cahalan said. TRIP's top 20 only include six of what the state has listed as top priorities.
The only major projects in recent years have been the Intercounty Connector in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and an express toll lane project for Interstate 95 north of Baltimore.
"What the remaining dollars have been used for, and what we've been able to accomplish, are bridge and safety projects and system preservation work maintaining what we have," Cahalan said. "We are not in a position where we can expand the system and address some of the congestion issues that the state is facing today."
Cahalan said that the Route 32 projects are the county's top priority and among the state's most important projects to be completed.
"The challenge is to find the funding," he said. "The cold reality of things is if in fact there is no additional investment in transportation in Maryland, we will continue to maintain the status quo for the foreseeable future."
The Route 29 project has been awaiting funding for 25 years; it was originally approved in 1987. The state held meetings last year to discuss its approach for whenever construction does begin, even though no schedule for the work can be set without money to pay for it.
It isn't uncommon for projects to take years to plan, design, get funding and community support, and then to be completed, Cahalan said.
"Transportation is a long-term investment," he said. "It is not a thing where you snap your fingers and things happen tomorrow."