Maryland travelers have reason to give thanks for the $151 billion, six-year highway and transit legislation approved by Congress yesterday -- about 2.7 billion reasons, to be exact.
The bill, which President Bush is expected to sign, passed the House 372-47 early yesterday morning and the Senate 79-8 in the afternoon. It will finance $1.9 billion in highway construction projects and provide about $800 million for mass transit in Maryland.
But state transportation officials warned that Maryland could lose out on nearly a third of that money because the state's
ailing Transportation Trust Fund might not be able to provide enough matching dollars.
"We won't be able to take advantage of the federal money without a revenue increase on the state level," said O. James Lighthizer, the state transportation secretary.
The list of projects approved by Congress includes $160 million to expand and upgrade the Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) system. Two likely candidates are extensions from the Washington area to Waldorf and on the Brunswick line from Point of Rocks to Frederick. Also included is $79 million for improvements to the commuter rail system's existing lines.
"This is a home run for Maryland's rail system," Mr. Lighthizer said. "MARC is getting a massive boost. This could allow us to make a quantum leap in service."
The MARC system, which serves commuters from as far away as Perryville and West Virginia, and links Baltimore and Washington, has been the state's fastest growing mass transit service in recent years and comes closest of all the transit systems to paying for itself.
Yesterday's action "upped the ante" in the debate over Maryland's Transportation Trust Fund, Mr. Lighthizer said, because many of the programs approved by Congress yesterday require states to match 20 percent or more of the cost.
Unless the 1992 General Assembly approves an increase in the state's tax on gasoline -- the legislature rejected a 5 percent gasoline sales tax earlier this year -- Maryland could lose out on "a substantial portion" of the federal funds, he said.
Stephen G. Zentz, deputy transportation secretary, estimated that the state will be unable to match about $1 billion of the federal money unless new revenue is found.
Other Maryland projects earmarked for federal funds in the bill include improvements to the northern half of the Baltimore Beltway and extending Baltimore's light-rail system to Penn Station, Hunt Valley and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
The bill also designates Morgan State University as a national center for transportation management and authorizes money for prototype magnetic levitation train somewhere in the United States, possibly between Baltimore and Washington.
Maryland officials hailed the transportation bill as a victory for its congressional delegation, which included two members of the House-Senate conference committee, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., and Representative Helen D. Bentley, R-Md.-2nd.
The $2.7 billion also would translate into an estimated 5,400 construction-related jobs for Marylanders over a six-year period. A spokesman for Gov. William Donald Schaefer said an effort would be made to expedite six of the projects, advertising them for bids before the end of the year to help boost the state's sagging economy.
The six projects, totaling $4.75 million, include two in the Baltimore area: the repaving of Route 137 between Route 25 and Route 45 in Baltimore County and repaving Route 424 between Route 450 and Route 3 in Anne Arundel County.
The others are the rehabilitation of the Route 34 bridge over the Little Antietam River in Washington County, resurfacing and improvements to U.S. 219 between Monte Vista Road and Route 135 in Garrett County, upgrading the intersection of Route 198 and U.S. 29 in Montgomery County and repair of the Route 281 bridge over Big Elk Creek in Cecil County.
Transportation funds for Maryland
*$160 million for the Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) system. Two likely candidates are extensions from the Washington area to Waldorf and on the Brunswick line from Point of Rocks to Frederick.
* $79 million for improvements to existing MARC lines.
* $60 million to extend Baltimore's light-rail system to Penn Station, Hunt Valley and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
* $23.9 million to improve portions of the Baltimore Beltway from Reisterstown Road to Route 702, the Southeast Freeway.
* $11.8 million to improve Belair Road/U.S. 1 in Baltimore County north of the Beltway.
* $9.5 million to repair bridges in Baltimore and Harford counties.
L * $90.3 million to improve the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
* $45 million for repairs and maintenance to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge on the Capital Beltway and to study whether to build a new span to relieve congestion.
* $108.4 million for Washington's Metro system.
* $15.7 million to upgrade the Baltimore subway.
* $5 million to study whether to build a light-rail line between the Metro station on Addison Road and Largo in Prince George's County.