The Ehrlich administration told lawmakers yesterday that it wants to use
more future federal highway funds than allowed under current law to build a
proposed east-west highway in the Washington suburbs.
Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said the state needs such
authority to finance construction of the Intercounty Connector. He warned that
delay could add $100 million a year to the cost of the toll road, now
estimated at $2.1 billion.
The proposal to use more funds ran into immediate opposition from Del.
Peter Franchot, chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the
transportation budget. The Montgomery County Democrat said the plan would
divert money from other needed projects and could put the ICC in jeopardy.
Franchot, a self-described ICC supporter, instead suggested "a modest
increase" in the state gasoline tax -- an idea that has been soundly rejected
by the administration and General Assembly Republicans.
"We need more of a pay-as-you-go component rather than putting everything
into tolls and federal highway funding," Franchot said. Current plans call for
financing about half the cost of the ICC by borrowing against federal
payments, and paying for most of the rest with bonds backed by tolls.
Flanagan announced last week that the estimated cost of the highway, which
would run from U.S. 1 in Laurel to the Interstate 270 corridor in Montgomery
County, had increased from the previous projection of $1.7 billion. He said
the increase was largely the result of plans to spend more to soften the ICC's
impact on water quality.
Flanagan appeared before two legislative panels yesterday to ask lawmakers
to raise the 13 percent limit on the amount of future federal highway fund
increases that could be used to repay ICC bonds to 20 percent. His request
faced no resistance in the Senate budget committee but received a chilly
reception in the House subcommittee. The limit was included in budget
legislation at the insistence of House leaders.
Franchot, an outspoken critic of the administration, derided its proposal
to increase borrowing against future federal payments as "Immaculate
Flanagan disagreed with Franchot's contention that the higher limit would
hurt other parts of the state. "I get very upset at the suggestion that we
would take money out of other people's projects," the transportation secretary
The administration's proposal would not affect current road work, but could
mean that future projects would compete for a smaller pool of federal highway
funds left over after bond payments. Under current law, 87 percent of future
increases would be available for non-ICC projects; the administration wants to
make that 80 percent.
Some lawmakers see that as a small price to pay to get moving on a project
that has been on the drawing board for almost a half-century. House Minority
Leader George C. Edwards, a Garrett County Republican, called Flanagan's
proposal "the fairest and the best and the quickest way" to build the ICC.