Millions at stake for Md. Congressional panel set to divide money for road, rail projects

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON -- Millions of dollars for Maryland projects, including the MARC rail commuter service, the Baltimore light-rail line and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, hang in the balance when House and Senate negotiators meet, perhaps this week, to hammer out a federal transportation budget.

Also at stake will be the first $28 million installment on a demonstration of a magnetic levitation train that would run on a magnetic cushion at speeds of up to 300 mph -- a project dear to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., who hopes to have it built in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

Ms. Mikulski will lead the charge on Maryland projects when the House-Senate conference committee sits down for what she expects will be contentious negotiations.

She accused Rep. Bob Carr, the new chairman of the House transportation appropriations subcommittee, of cutting funds for projects in Maryland and the states of other senators who will participate in the bargaining so that he would have "bargaining chips."

L That's a charge Mr. Carr, a Democrat from Michigan, rejects.

"Maryland has done very well . . . over the years" in obtaining transportation funds from Congress, said Mr. Carr, who took over the subcommittee this year and adopted a set of investment criteria for evaluating transportation projects.

Some Maryland projects, he said in an interview, "don't rank very high in the nation under a cost-benefit analysis." He was not specific but a Senate aide said Mr. Carr has been critical of the Baltimore light-rail project because of its low ridership figures.

At the same time that his subcommittee was cutting projects in Maryland and other states from the budget, it was adding roads projects for Mr. Carr's home state of Michigan, projects that had not been authorized previously by Congress. The full House subsequently dropped those projects.

The Senate passed the $14 billion transportation bill Wednesday, two weeks after the House approved its $13.3 billion version of the bill.

Members of the House and Senate transportation appropriations subcommittees now must iron out differences in the two versions in a House-Senate conference committee.

Mr. Carr will lead the House delegation. As a member of the Senate transportation subcommittee, Ms. Mikulski will participate in the negotiations.

The matters in dispute include:

* $25 million for the Maryland Rail Commuter system. The Clinton administration asked for $10 million, but the House transportation subcommittee cut the funds. When the bill reached the Senate, the appropriations subcommittee restored the $10 million -- and added $15 million.

* $3.15 million for the Baltimore light-rail line. The administration asked for $18.15 million, which the House subcommittee eliminated. The Senate subcommittee, at Ms. Mikulski's request, restored $3.15 million -- 17 percent of the administration request.

Senator Mikulski pressed for more MARC funds than the administration had recommended. She settled for only 17 percent of the recommendation on light-rail funds because MARC is her top priority for Maryland transportation funds, and because the state would not need more than $3.15 million for the light-rail construction in the new fiscal year, an aide said.

* $16 million for the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. The administration sought no funds for the continuing reconstruction the road. The House subcommittee, however, put $16 million in the budget at the request of Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. Subsequently, the Senate committee stripped out all of the funds.

* $27.9 million for maglev. The administration sought $27.9 million, which the House subcommittee cut and the Senate subcommittee restored.

In addition to the disputed matters, both House and Senate budgets included another $12.6 million for the MARC system -- money appropriated under a previously adopted formula -- $10.5 million for the extension of the Baltimore subway to Johns Hopkins Hospital, and $200 million for the Washington Metro system extension, a project important to Maryland senators and Washington-area representatives.

Congress authorized a $725 million maglev test project two years ago, but the money has yet to be appropriated.

The Baltimore-Washington corridor is one of a half-dozen areas vying to be the test site.

Senator Mikulski last week told a group of Maryland businessmen and representatives of firms that hope to profit from the project that money for "maglev is going to be a tough one" because Representative Carr is opposed to federal investment in new technologies.

Mr. Carr admits that he is skeptical of maglev and says the government "can't afford to do all things."

Said Ms. Mikulski: "My whole agenda in Congress is to try to generate jobs today and jobs tomorrow."

Having made an August trip to view a maglev test site in Germany as well as the operation of high-speed trains in Germany and France, she said maglev "really is the train for the 21st century," the step beyond high-speed trains Amtrak plans to acquire for the Northeast corridor.

Acknowledging that the maglev "funds represent high-risk capital," she says, "I truly believe that if we build it, they will come."

HEARING TONIGHT ON FUTURE ROADS PROJECTS

A report on future highway and transit projects is the subject of a hearing tonight at the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.

The 2020 report predicts greater traffic congestion in the years ahead and raises the possibility that fewer people will ride mass transit despite $3.7 billion in recommended spending. A wider Beltway and several new light rail lines, an upgrade of U.S. 29 to freeway standards and several new bypasses in Carroll County are among the big-ticket items the report recommends. Projects that don't make the report can't qualify for federal funding.

The three-hour hearing is to begin at 6 p.m. at the council's headquarters at 601 N. Howard St., Baltimore. The council is a private, nonprofit organization that coordinates long-range transportation planning for Baltimore and five suburban counties.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
43°