WASHINGTON – A national highway bill signed this week by President Clinton secures $98 million for improvements on Maryland roads.
The bill signed Tuesday designates 1,360 miles of Maryland roads as part of a new National Highway System.
Among the expected improvements secured by the act would be the widening of Maryland Route 355 in Montgomery County, between Montgomery Village Avenue and Middlebrook Road, and construction of a new interchange on Maryland Route 5 in southern Prince George’s County. The interchange would be built at Coventry Way and Malcolm and Schultz roads, said Liz Kalinowski, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Transportation.
“We will continue with our emphasis on system preservation,” said Chuck Brown, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration.
The measure also calls for upgrading roads leading to Westminster, Ocean City and Salisbury.
And it instructs the U.S. Department of Transportation to contribute funds to rebuild the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, which spans the Potomac River and connects Prince George’s County with Alexandria.
“It does look ahead to the next step” of implementation, said David Keever, project facilitator for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Improvement Study.
Of the $97 billion cost anticipated for the two-year bridge project, the Transportation Department is expected to contribute around $1 billion to $2 billion, said Eric Ruff, spokesman for Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia.
Nationwide, the act authorizes $6 billion for maintenance and construction projects along the new 160,955-mile National Highway System. The funds will improve the system’s safety and quality, said Josie Martin, spokeswoman for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Lisa Wright, a spokeswoman for Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Western Maryland, said the measure provides “a foundation for safe travel.” She said it builds on the interstate system started in the Eisenhower administration.
Among the more controversial provisions in the measure was one repealing the federal speed limit put in place two decades ago and another giving states autonomy to enact their own motorcycle helmet requirements.
Although some states – such as California, Nevada and Texas – have taken steps to increase their speed limits under the legislation, Maryland will not raise its limit above the current 65 mph in rural areas, Brown said.
Brown said a task force is currently reviewing Maryland’s roads to determine if the speed limit should be raised in urban areas from 55 mph to 60 or 65 mph. Recommendations from the task force are expected this spring, Brown said.
Highway safety advocates said repealing the federal limit would put motorists at risk.
“This is the first highway bill in American history that will kill more Americans than it will save,” said Bill Bronrott, spokesman for the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. The group, along with other safety advocates, picketed in front of the White House Tuesday in a last-ditch effort to persuade Clinton to veto the legislation.
Bartlett had called the federal speed limit “unnecessary meddling.”
The provision signed by Clinton also permits states to allow billboards to be constructed along industrial and commercial portions of scenic byways. But the compromise language would require states to first remove the scenic byway designation from those portions of the system. In Maryland, there are 217 miles of scenic byways. -30-