Road to recovery

The Baltimore Sun

It didn't take long for the first wave of the $3.8 billion stimulus money bound for Maryland to get spent. Gov. Martin O'Malley yesterday announced a series of transportation improvements, from new buses to street repair, that should create, or at least retain, thousands of jobs as contractors gear up for a busier spring.

As transportation projects go, the list is duller than a block of reinforced concrete. No major new projects, no ambitious expansions and certainly no "Bridges to Nowhere." Maryland's $600 million to $700 million share of transportation funding will go mostly to bricks, mortar and a whole lot of asphalt. But for a state that has been forced to trim $2.1 billion from its budget for transportation projects since last fall, it's welcome news. Overall, officials calculate the money will translate to 17,500 jobs, including nearly 10,000 in the coming months.

And those aren't the only jobs at stake. The outpouring from Washington should spare state workers from the hundreds of layoffs the governor anticipated just weeks ago. It will mean less harm to school funding and less drastic reductions to many other government programs. It also may enable Baltimore to contain the fallout of the subprime mortgage debacle by buying foreclosed properties sullying neighborhoods and retrofitting them for sale or lease.

What exactly all this means for Maryland's budget outlook is not yet clear, and O'Malley aides don't expect to offer a fully revised accounting of it until next week. Certainly, the injection of stimulus money does not wholly eliminate the state's recession-fueled deficit. And since January tax receipts fell below expectations this week, the complete picture is far from cheery.

Still, there is much to be thankful for in the Free State. The transportation improvements are only the first evidence of what is to come. Maryland is poised to benefit well beyond its share of direct aid as so many of the federally funded, Maryland-based institutions, from the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, share in the largesse. Not every state can border the nation's capital, but geography favors Maryland in this regard. Even stimulus money technically spent in D.C. or Northern Virginia can have happy returns for Maryland-based contractors and those who live and commute from this side of the Potomac River.

Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari says need, not politics, has determined where the road and transit dollars will be spent. If so, that's exactly how it should be. There's nothing glamorous about refurbishing the Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) station at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, but such maintenance is not merely job-creating, it's generally a worthwhile investment.

So while revitalizing roads such as Baltimore's Northern Parkway (from Falls Road to Park Heights Avenue) is expected to create 629 jobs in the near-term, it's also going to spare drivers from pot holes or bad street lighting and pedestrians from ruined sidewalks, and make surrounding neighborhoods more attractive and stable.

Same with upgraded Metro cars, a fleet of hybrid transit buses, refurbished bridges and resurfaced roads. Taxpayers will eventually pay for it all, but in a time of economic crisis and when the effects are this beneficial - and long-lasting - that seems reasonable.

KEEPING MARYLAND MOVING

Here's a sample of state transit and highway projects funded by the federal economic stimulus:

Jurisdiction ........... Description ....................... Cost ................... Estimated jobs

Baltimore region .. Purchase of 100 hybrid buses and equipment

........................................ ....................................................$65.6 million .................... 1,561

A. Arundel,

Howard, Mont.,

P.G. counties ..... Replacement of local bus systems ,

........................................ ................................................ $5 million ........................ 119

Statewide ................. Highway resurfacing ... $146.2 million ............. 4,196

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