Maryland transportation projects taking a big hit

The Baltimore Sun

Maryland transportation projects, already scheduled to absorb $1.1 billion in cuts over the next six years, will lose an added $1 billion because of slumping revenues, state officials said yesterday.

The Maryland Department of Transportation delivered the bad news in the final version of its 2009-2014 capital spending plan. The cuts are even steeper than those projected in a draft last fall.

State officials now predict a $350 million-per-year drop in money going to the Transportation Trust Fund. That represents a decline of $235 million per year on top of the $115 million forecast in September.

Maryland officials hope that some projects could be put back on track if federal funds begin to flow under President Barack Obama's economic stimulus bill.

"We are very well positioned for the national economic recovery program in that we have projects teed up and ready to go," said state Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari. Among them, he said, are some of the projects just put on hold.

The cuts, most of them actually deferrals of planned projects into future years, affect virtually every phase of transportation spending in Maryland.

Highway projects that would be delayed include a new interchange at Interstate 795 and Dolfield Road in Baltimore County as well as widenings of Interstate 70 in Howard County and Route 175 in Anne Arundel County. The Maryland Transit Administration will have to defer planned improvements to its bus, light rail, MARC and subway systems.

Also feeling the pinch will be local governments, which will get less highway aid. Erin Henson, a Transportation Department spokeswoman, said there are no plans to change the formula under which such funds are distributed. But there will be less money to divide because of the grim revenue picture.

Officials say the economic downturn has led to a drop in vehicle sales and the number of miles driven. That has led to a decrease in revenue from fuel and titling taxes, registration fees and other sources of money for transportation projects.

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