Bush transportation plan cuts Maryland allowance


WASHINGTON -- Maryland would get taken to the cleaners if President Bush's $105 billion, five-year plan for overhauling federal aid to transportation were adopted unchanged, state officials said yesterday.

The program, unveiled at the White House yesterday, would increase overall federal transportation spending, give state officials a greater say in how that money is spent and require states to kick in a larger share of the cost of most construction projects.

"We are encouraging creative new financing and management by the states," Mr. Bush told highway officials at the White House yesterday.

But Maryland Secretary of Transportation O. James Lighthizer called the Bush plan "well-intentioned but ill-advised," adding, "Maryland really gets hung out to dry."

Stephen G. Zentz, deputy transportation secretary, said that federal highway aid to the state would fall from about $326 million to $276 million for each of the five years and that Baltimore's state-run mass-transit system could lose $10 million in operating funds annually. A proposal to cut certain mass-transit spending could delay financing for three planned extensions to the Baltimore light-rail system, he said.

But he added that the state-financed main line, connecting Timonium and Glen Burnie, would still open on schedule in April 1992.

Mr. Zentz said state officials will "lobby as hard as we can" to change those parts of the plan that penalize Maryland.

Francis B. Francois, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, whose organization rated the proposal at 6 on a scale of 10, said he expects much of it to pass.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Samuel K. Skinner laid careful groundwork in Congress by asking the lawmakers in advance what features they would like to see in the bill.

Maryland officials did not like what they saw. Most of all, they didn't like the plan's formula for calculating how much federal gas-tax revenue each state would receive for highway programs.

"It appears as though the state will receive only about 80 percent of the dollars that are collected in Maryland federal fuel taxes," Mr. Zentz said.

Now, he said, the state receives about 160 percent of what it raises in federal gasoline taxes. Under the president's plan, Maryland would net the 48th-lowest return among the 50 states on its residents' federal gas-tax payments.

The formula would distribute money based on a state's linear miles of roadway, per capita gas consumption and square miles of land.

Western states with lots of land and few residents stand to benefit. Alaska, for example, would receive 921 percent of its gas-tax payments.

"It's kind of like highway socialism," said Frank R. Moretti, a spokesman for the Washington-based Highway Users Federation, a group sponsored by the auto and oil industries. The object, he said, is to help states with lots of land and roads but few people to pay for them.

Nationwide, the plan would increase highway funding by 39 percent, to $20.3 billion, over five years. It would increase mass-transit spending by 25 percent, to $2.9 billion, and highway safety spending by 34 percent, and it contains incentives for private-sector investment in toll roads.

Mr. Zentz said Baltimore's mass-transit system would lose $10 million annually under the plan's proposal to halt federal operating aid for urban areas with populations of more than 1 million.

The plan would reduce, from $440 million to about $300 million, the amount of money Congress can earmark each year for new mass-transit projects. As a result, "the money might come slower" to build extensions of the Baltimore system to Hunt Valley Mall, Penn Station and Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Mr. Zentz said.

State officials praised aspects of the president's proposal, welcoming a proposal for a 50 percent increase in federal spending for fixing and replacing unsafe bridges.

The plan also would establish a National Highway System, consisting of 150,000 miles of existing interstate highways and principal arterial routes, that would be given high priority for construction and repair.

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