WASHINGTON – Maryland’s eight House members voted for legislation this week that would bring $98 million in federal funds to the state to improve its roads.
The National Highway System bill, which passed the House Wednesday on a 419-7 vote, would fund improvements to 1,360 miles of key roadways, including Maryland’s 482-mile interstate system, said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican.
The Senate passed a slightly different version of the bill, so differences will have to be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee.
While the specifics of how the federal funding would be used in Maryland have not yet been decided, a priority would be given to making improvements, rather than building new roads, said Chuck Brown, spokesman for the State Highway Administration.
“Our main priority is system preservation,” Brown said.
Bartlett said he expects money to be used in his 6th District to improve U.S. Highway 220, north of Cumberland, and the Interstate Highway 70/270 interchange in Frederick, among other projects.
“Route 220 is the spine for future economic development in Western Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia,” Bartlett said.
More than 7,500 vehicles use U.S. Route 220 every day. That number is expected to double by 2015, Bartlett said.
In addition to his hopes for improving U.S. 220, Bartlett said he was excited about an approved re-allocation of $440,000 in unused money from a project in Washington County to the Interstate 70/270 interchange.
“This $440,000 is one more step toward ensuring that Frederick County remains an active force for growth in Maryland’s economy,” Bartlett said.
The interchange project, still in the design stage, would be in jeopardy if the bill did not pass, Brown said.
Besides freeing up road improvement money, the House bill grants the states increased power by repealing the federal speed limit.
The federal limit of 55 mph on most roads and 65 mph on some designated rural Interstates is a guideline states must adhere to in order to receive federal funds.
Whether this repealed speed limit will make it into the final bill is yet to be determined. The Senate bill included the federal speed limit.
Both versions of the bill crack down on underage drunk driving, thanks to a “zero-tolerance” blood alcohol level amendment.
The amendment would withhold highway funds from states that do not adopt zero-tolerance laws, which would establish a legal blood alcohol content of .00 to .02 for youths under 21.
Currently, 30 states, including Maryland, have passed such laws. -30-