Fast-paced days of road building come to an end

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Major highway construction projects may become all but extinct in Maryland over the next decade, officials say, as building roads becomes more expensive, land more scarce, communities less eager for growth, and environmental rules more costly.

State road projects are caught in a short-term crunch. More than $775 million worth of state and federal highway construction projects are frozen through 1992, following the General Assembly's decision not to raise new revenue through higher gasoline taxes or motor vehicle fees.

But even if lawmakers agree to begin pumping more money into the transportation trust fund in the coming year, few expect to see a high-powered highway construction program come screaming up the on-ramp. Top state officials predict that new construction in the 1990s probably won't match the fuel-injected pace of the mid-1980s.

"That era is just about over," said state Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer. And Mr. Lighthizer, an advocate of mass transit, is ready to bid it a fond farewell.

"Probably in the long run it's a good thing," he said. "I don't subscribe to the theory that we ought to pave over the state of Maryland."

"In the past there was tremendous support for major road projects, including the National Freeway in Western Maryland and the new Kent Narrows bridge," said Delegate Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's, chairman of the House subcommittee on transportation spending.

"Today, except in Montgomery County, there is much less of a groundswell statewide," he said.

"I have more people beating on me for sound barriers on the Beltway than asking for new road projects. . . . I think the mood in the General Assembly is clearly to look at alternatives to the automobile."

Delegate Maloney also said there was less political pressure for new road construction money during the 1991 legislative session than in previous years.

Because of the slowdown in housing sales and construction, developers were not pleading for new pavement.

Only two major new highway projects are in the planning process at the State Highway Administration. One is the Intercounty Connector, a proposed 6.5-mile freeway between Route 28 north of Rockville and U.S. 29. The other is the Washington Bypass, a highway proposed for various routes between Virginia and Maryland that is supposed to outflank the chronically congested Capital Beltway.

"Even under the rosiest funding scenarios, I don't think they are going to happen in this decade," Delegate Maloney said.

One reason is that new road construction is getting too expensive. The cost of land has risen sharply over the decade, and federal and state environmental rules require spending large sums to avoid damaging or to replace fragile swamps, bogs and seasonally flooded areas known as wetlands.

Also, roads just aren't as popular with voters as they once were, officials say.

Even in Montgomery County, where rapid growth and chronic gridlock have communities clamoring for new roads, some residents harbor doubts -- especially when the right of way is through their backyards.

A group called the Route 28 Community Alliance has been sparring with the SHA over its long-standing plans to expand five miles of Route 28 northwest of Rockville from two to six lanes.

"We didn't feel that a mini-I-270 was appropriate to serve a bunch of neighborhoods," said Gigi Godwin, a spokesman for the alliance.

The alliance has enlisted the aid of elected officials in trying to pressure the SHA to scale back the road to four lanes with a narrow median strip. In any case, the Route 28 project is not moving forward soon: It is one of $454 million in state highway projects frozen until at least July 1992, barring an interim increase in transportation taxes.

Maryland also could see $220 million worth of federal interstate highway projects slip through its fingers if it can't find matching money -- typically 10 percent to 25 percent of a project's cost -- by Oct. 1.

Robert E. Latham, executive director of the Maryland Highway Contractors Association, does not buy the notion that roads are unpopular.

"There is an anti-growth mentality among some people in Maryland," he conceded. But the $1.5 billion gasoline tax measure failed, he said, because voters saw that only a small portion was designated for highway construction. Too much of the new money, he said, was slated for mass transit and other uses.

New highways will be needed, he said, to cope with almost 440,000 new state residents expected by the year 2000. Changing commuting patterns also would make it hard to replace the auto with mass transit.

Commuters no longer travel between bedroom suburbs and downtown offices, he said. "That's a big hurdle," he said. "How do you move people from their office in Odenton to their house in Arnold over fixed rail mass transit?"

Mr. Lighthizer said commuters can be lured to "an integrated transit system." How? "You make it go where people want to go."

Suburbanites already are abandoning their cars to travel to Washington, Mr. Lighthizer said.

He pointed out that the number of riders on the Maryland Rail Commuter system has been jumping by about 20 percent annually for the past several years.

Even without major new highway projects, Maryland still will have big highway bills. Mr. Lighthizer said the state needs new transportation taxes to pay for reconstruction, expansion and maintenance of existing roads and transportation facilities.

Mass transit construction is not cheap. Construction of the new Baltimore-area light rail line will cost $16.2 million per mile. The 1.5-mile Baltimore Metro extension to Johns Hopkins Hospital is projected to cost more than $330 million.

Switching to transit also would require many people to make basic changes in the way they live.

The joke among highway industry officials is that every commuter wants mass transit, but only because he'd like to get all those other fools off the road.

"The public is inconsistent," Mr. Maloney agreed. "They say they want an alternative to private vehicles. But in truth most people ,, still have a love affair with their cars."

But Mr. Lighthizer and other officials are betting that when roads get too crowded, commuters will look for alternatives.

Transportation cutbacks

S T A T E H I G H W A Y P R O J E C T S

County / Highway Project... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... Cost

METRO BALTIMORE

Anne Arundel

Route 100 land acquisition and widening... ...$151.9 million

Route 177 land acquisition... ... ... ... ... .$1.5 million

Routes 4 & 408 interchange construction... ... $8.0 million

Route 4 land acquisition... ... ... ... ... .. $1.1 million

U.S. 50 access road improvements.. ... ... ... $1.8 million

Baltimore

I-83 Beaver Dam Road interchange construction $12.6 million

1 land acquisition and reconstruction from I-695... ...

to north of Silver Spring Road... ... ... ... .$9.7 million

Carroll

Route 97 interchange construction at Kate Wagner Road... ...

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... .. $2.2 million

Route 140 land acquisition... ... ... ... ... ... .$600,000

Route 30 land acquisition... ... ... ... ... . $2.5 million

Harford

Route 24 four-lane reconstruction, I-95 to Route 755... ...

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ..$19.4 million

U.S. 1 land acquisition... ... ... ... ... ... $1.5 million

Howard

Route 32 four-lane reconstruction... ... ... .$24.0 million

Route 32 land acquisition $2.8 million

Route 29 & Route 103 land acquisition, interchange ... ... .

construction... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... . $20.9 million

SOUTHERN MARYLAND / D.C. SUBURBS

Calvert

Route 4 land acquisition... ... ... ... ... ... .. $349,000

Charles

Route 228 reconstruction, Sharperville Road to U.S. 301 ...

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... .. $7.6 million

Route 228 land acquisition, Route 210 to Sharperville Road..

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... .. $917,000

U.S. 301 land acquisition... ... ... ... ... ... . $500,000

Montgomery

Intercounty Connector land acquisition... ... .$8.6 million

Route 108 land acquisition and four-lane reconstruction... .

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... . $21.0 million

Route 118 six-lane construction... ... ... ... $2.1 million

Route 28 reconstruction west of Route 124... .$43.2 million

Route 650 land acquisition... ... ... ... ... .$8.1 million

Prince George's

Route 5 land acquisition... ... ... ... ... .. $8.3 million

Route 214 reconstruction, Brightseat to Campus Way... ... ..

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... . $25.6 million

Route 214 construction, Route 556 to west of U.S. 301... ...

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... .. $9.2 million

Route 3 two-lane construction... ... ... ... . $1.0 million

St. Mary's

Route 246 land acquisition, five-lane reconstruction... ...

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... $8.0 million

EASTERN SHORE

Caroline

Route 404 reconstruction, Legion to Double Hills... ... ...

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... .. $4.9 million

Kent

Route 213 Chestertown bypass land acquisition... ... ... ..

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... .. $2.2 million

Queen Anne's

I= U.S. 301 at Route 213 land acquisition, interchange... ...

construction... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... $8.6 million

U.S. 50 land acquisition... ... ... ... ... ... .. $300,000

Talbot

Route 33 land acquisition for route relocation... .$848,000

Wicomico

U.S. 50 land acquisition for route relocation. $3.7 million

WESTERN MARYLAND

Allegany

Route 36 land acquisition... ... ... ... ... . $1.5 million

Frederick

I-70 land acquisition... ... ... ... ... ... .$17.0 million

Route 194 Woodsboro bypass... ... ... ... ... .$6.9 million

Route 26 land acquisition... ... ... ... ... ... .. $12,000

I N T E R S T A T E H I G H W A Y S

In March, after state titling tax revenues took an unexpected dip, interstate highway programs using federal matching money were also put on hold:

(County / Highway Project Cost

Anne Arundel County

I-97--Route 176 to Route 648 land acquisition.. $9.5 million

I-97--Route 176 to Route 648 eight-lane reconstruction... ..

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... . $43.0 million

I-97 wetlands replacement... ... ... ... ... ... . $312,000

I-97--Route 174 to Route 176 six-lane reconstruction... ...

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... . $39.8 million

I-97--Route 648 to I-695 eight-lane reconstruction... ... ..

million

I-195--Route 295 to Route 170 wetlands replacement $578,000

at Routes 2, 450 interchange construction... ... ... .

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... . $22.3 million

I-595--Patuxent River to Route 424 six-lane reconstruction..

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... . $35.5 million

I-595--Route 424 to I-97 six-lane reconstruction... ... ...

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... . $43.4 million

Route 162--Route 176 to Poplar Ave. four-lane reconstruction

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... .. $5.5 million

Route 162--Route 176 to Poplar Ave. land acquisition... ...

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... .. $326,000

Route 32 at B-W Parkway land for interchange.. $1.2 million

Route 32 at B-W Parkway interchange reconstruction... ... ..

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... $8.6 million

Route 450 at Severn River land acquisition for bridge... ...

.... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ..$464,000

I-595--South Haven Road to Severn River Bridge median... ...

barrier construction... ... ... ... ... ... .. $4.1 million

I-595 at Routes 2, 450 land for interchange... ... $131,000

Prince George's County

I-495--Route 650 to U.S. 1 widen and resurface... ... ... ..

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... . $15.7 million

I-595--U.S. 301

to Patuxent River six-lane reconstruction... .$53.5 million

I-595 at Patuxent River wetlands replacement.. $1.3 million

approaching I-495 message signs... ... ... .. $349,000

SOURCE: State Highway Administration

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