Md. compiles projects to allow base growth

The Baltimore Sun

State officials identified yesterday nearly $800 million in transportation, school and water and sewer projects that need to be funded next year alone to accommodate an expected influx of military base workers and their families.

After nearly six months of huddling with local officials, the governor's base-realignment "subcabinet" identified almost 125 highway, transit, water and sewer, public school and college projects, most of them in the Baltimore area, to handle the new base workers and their families.

The draft report is subject to being changed after public comment. A final version is to be submitted to Gov. Martin O'Malley in mid-December. Officials caution that the cost of the listed projects is merely a first installment on the infrastructure needed to handle base-related growth.

The subcabinet, representing 11 state agencies, also called for new legislation to support the relocation of at least 15,000 defense-related jobs to the state, and to help pay for some of the infrastructure needed to accommodate them as part of a nationwide military base realignment, commonly referred to by its Pentagon acronym, BRAC.

That legislation and the funding requests are expected to be introduced to lawmakers when the General Assembly convenes in January for its regular 90-day session.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who has overseen the administration's planning effort, issued a statement through a spokeswoman last night saying that the plan "takes the first steps toward prioritizing the infrastructure that we need as a state to protect and enhance the quality of life that we enjoy."

Specifically, the administration proposed creation of a fund to help the state's colleges and universities develop the courses and classrooms needed to meet the educational needs of the new workers and their families.

In an effort to prevent the base buildup from aggravating suburban sprawl, the administration also proposed giving local governments more authority to use tax credits and other financial tools to steer base-related development into targeted areas.

Finally, reflecting state and local officials' complaints about the military's promoting private development on its bases, the administration proposed amending state law to require payments in lieu of taxes from the developers to state and local governments.

Some of the projects identified in the report may already have been planned. It could not be determined yesterday how much of the $785 million worth of capital projects listed in the plan already had funding set aside.

The costliest project listed in the plan - $200 million for upgrading of interchanges and construction of express toll lanes along Interstate 95 in Baltimore and Harford counties - represents just one year's payment on the entire $1.2 billion project, explained Jack Cahalan, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation. The federal government generally pays four-fifths of the costs of all highway projects, with state and local funds making up the rest.

Local officials and base supporters, some of whom had been briefed on the state plan before its release, called it a good first step toward preparing for expected waves of growth and development around Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.

"It's a start," said Robert Leib, special assistant to Anne Arundel Executive John R. Leopold. He said many of the projects the county needs to handle the added traffic and population appeared to be included in the plan, but more may be needed.

Anne Arundel officials had identified $5 billion in road and transit improvements alone that they said were needed to handle the buildup around Fort Meade. But at least one of the projects on the county's list - extension of the Washington Metro's "Green Line" to BWI Marshall airport - was earmarked for just $2 million for planning, a fraction of what would be needed if it were built.

"I see several of the Harford and Cecil county priority items on the list for 2008, and there are others I don't see," Wyett H. Colclasure II, president of the Army Alliance, a group supporting Aberdeen, said in an e-mail.

Officials project that the nationwide base realignment approved by Congress in 2005 will bring more than 15,000 defense jobs, mostly civilian employees and contractors to Maryland. Besides Aberdeen and Meade, other bases expected to grow are Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County, Fort Detrick in Frederick and the National Naval Medical Center in Montgomery County.

Planners have predicted that the base buildup could spawn additional job growth in the state, producing as many as 45,000 to 60,000 jobs during the next several years. About 28,000 new households are also projected, the majority in the Baltimore area.

While economists have predicted that the defense buildup will eventually generate more than $400 million in additional state and local tax revenues, governments must finance infrastructure improvements now to handle the growth in traffic, students in schools and added water and wastewater needs.

A public briefing on the administration's tentative plans is scheduled at 10 a.m. Monday at the Department of Housing and Community Development in Crownsville. The public will have a chance to ask questions.

Sun reporter Jonathan Bor contributed to this article.

The draft plan, list of projects, proposed legislation and past Sun coverage of BRAC can be viewed online at www.baltimoresun .com/brac.

BRAC funding

The following represents base-related projects the O'Malley administration is proposing to fund in the fiscal 2008 capital budget.

BRAC funding by category:

Higher education - $114,755,000

Public school construction - $275,454,000

Water and sewer - $118,522,000

Transportation - $276,640,000

Total - $785,371,000(Funding would go to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Andrews Air Force Base, National Naval Medical Center, Fort Detrick and Fort Meade)

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