House panel OKs transportation bill with more Md. aid


WASHINGTON -- A House subcommittee approved yesterday a new five-year transportation bill that would offer Maryland more highway money than competing Senate and Bush administration measures and would earmark $60 million over the next five years for light rail.

The transportation bill approved by the House Public Works Surface Transportation Subcommittee would authorize the state $1.7 billion over five years, compared with $1.6 billion under a Senate-passed bill and the $1.4 billion under the administration-backed proposal.

"We do fairly well," Kenneth E. Mannella, director of the state's Washington office, said of the measure expected to come up for a House vote next week. "Things are moving in the right direction."

Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, a member of the Public Works Committee, was able to tack on the $60 million for light rail. The Senate measure did not earmark any money for the Glen Burnie-to-Hunt Valley light rail, saying the state would have to compete with other jurisdictions for federal funding.

Last year the state received $5 million for light rail, said Mr. Mannella.

An aide to Mrs. Bentley said the Lutherville congresswoman expects that additional money will be set aside for reconstruction work on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, the Woodrow Wilson drawbridge over the Potomac River and bridge repairs in Baltimore and Harford counties when the full committee votes on the bill on Thursday.

The bridges include one in Baltimore County on Paper Mill Road and five in Harford County: on Durham Road, Furnace Road and Watervale Road, all of which span Winters Run, and Southampton Road and Wheel Road, where bridges cross Bynum Run.

The Senate bill does not earmark money for any specific transportation projects, although individual projects are expected to be included during conference.

The House legislation and the Senate-passed bill, however, contain one item of interest to Maryland motorists and officials.

Both would allow the state to use proceeds from Fort McHenry Tunnel tolls to finance other transportation projects around the state, after the bond issue floated to pay for construction is paid off later in the decade.

Toll money not used for operations and maintenance could be used for the transportation projects. State officials say about half of the estimated $40 million in tolls collected each year is used for operations and maintenance.

The House bill also would offer Maryland more in mass transit assistance during the next five years, $597 million compared with $491 million under the Senate bill. State officials have not calculated how much transit money Maryland would receive under the Bush proposal.

Differences between the Senate and House bills would be worked out later this year in conference committee.

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