Gas tax defeat isn't end of road for state projects


ANNAPOLIS -- House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. took issue yesterday with Schaefer administration claims that the state's transportation construction program will stop because of the General Assembly's defeat of the governor's proposed gas tax increase.

"I just want everyone to know construction is not going to come to a halt," said Mr. Mitchell, D-Kent, who distributed to State House reporters copies of a long list of road projects he said will be built despite the gas tax defeat.

After the defeat of the gas tax and motor vehicle fee increase bill in a House committee Tuesday, Paul E. Schurick, the governor's press secretary, said: "People can expect no new roads, no major road improvements, no bridge repairs," except for emergency and safety improvements.

Stephen G. Zentz, deputy secretary of transportation, said last night that he had not seen Mr. Mitchell's list, but he insisted that his department never said all construction would stop.

"We have never said we won't have any capital program at all. That's not true," Mr. Zentz said. He said the department consistently told lawmakers that without revenue from a gas tax increase, there will be no system expansion.

"The projects that get the most attention are where we are expanding the capacity of the system, adding new highway lanes, or adding new transit lines, and they are the kinds of projects we will not be able to carry out," he said.

He said all the department will be able to do is "system preservation," and even that will be at a level lower than usual.

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