Where will highway money come from? Panel urges adoption of a new approach to transportation funding.


It was only partly in jest when state Sen. Julian L. Lapides, a member of a special joint legislative committee looking into future transportation costs, asked the question: "How much are hiking trails?"

Lapides, D-City, didn't get an answer yesterday. But his query underscored growing concern over how much the state will have to spend if it continues to use conventional ways to fund its transportation needs.

A mile of new four-lane highway, for example, costs taxpayers anywhere from $10 million to $27 million. Widening an existing highway with a mile-long single lane can cost $8 million to $12 million.

Light rail, considered by many transportation experts to be part of the solution to congested roadways, costs about $20 million a mile, and that's if the state already owns the right-of-way. At $3,000 a space, even a park-and-ride parking lot can bring lawmakers, who are wary of raising taxes, to their knees.

So it was with no small measure of concern yesterday that a handful of committee members urged Maryland transportation officials to seize the opportunity afforded by current economic and growth-management problems. It's time, they argued, to adopt a whole new philosophy when it comes to planning -- and paying for -- road, subway and rail projects.

Wary of a Schaefer administration plan to renew its call for a 5 percent sales tax increase on motor fuel when the legislature convenes next January, state Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, offered one suggestion to Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer.

Motorists who use certain roads should be the ones to pay for them, Smelser said, so why not institute tolls.

According to projections gathered by legislative fiscal analysts, the state is commited to spending more than $2 billion on highway projects alone during the next eight fiscal years. Hundreds of millions of dollars are expected to go for rail, port and aviation projects as well.

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