WASHINGTON – Maryland stands to get a significant boost in federal highway funding under bills being considered by Congress, but important projects are being overlooked.
The state would get about $475 million in fiscal 1999 under separate House and Senate versions of the spending bill. About $360 million would go to state highways, a 20 percent increase from last year.
But while both the House and Senate have included funds to finish the Washington Metro and begin reconstruction of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, funding for U.S. Route 220 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway are in doubt.
House and Senate conferees met Friday but were unable to reach agreement on a final transportation spending bill.
Among the differences between the two chambers is the funding for the parkway. The state wanted $24.5 million for repairs to the road, but the Senate has budgeted only $4 million and the House has left the parkway out of its budget entirely.
“We wanted funding to complete it [the parkway] all at once instead of over a number of years,” said Chuck Brown, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation.
U.S. Route 220, called a “deathtrap” by one House staffer, is slated to get $11 million in the Senate bill and $7.6 million in the House version.
The state estimates it will need three years and $37 million to improve Route 220, by lengthening merge lanes that are now too short for slow-moving vehicles that are entering the highway.
“That road is deathtrap because it is curvy and has been the site of horrendous accidents,” said Lisa Wright, a spokeswoman for Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick. “It has a much higher accident rate than comparable roads.”
She said the project is a high priority for Bartlett because of the heavy commuter traffic on the road, which connects Pennsylvania and Maryland.
“Bartlett is hopeful that the $11 million will prevail in conference because the road can certainly use that,” Wright said.
Maryland will not get the $30 million it wanted for the MARC system. Both the House and Senate have set aside $17 million for upkeep and construction of the commuter rail system, $14 million less than was received in 1998.
But the news is not all bad for the state.
Both chambers have budgeted $50 million for the Washington Metro, which will fund construction of the last portion of the 103-mile subway system.
“The $50 million is the last installment needed to complete the Green Line by 2001,” said Leona Agouridis, a Metro spokeswoman.
And the state is in line to get even more than it asked for for the Wilson Bridge: Maryland wanted $60 million, but both the House and Senate have approved $75 million to begin replacement of the bridge.
That money is just a downpayment on the project that the American Automobile Association said is expected to take six or more years and cost $1.8 billion.
The bridge, which carries Interstate 95 over the Potomac River, is the only drawbridge in the federal interstate system. Plans call for it to be elevated and expanded from six to 10 lanes.
The $75 million is “necessary for the preliminary design and engineering work,” said Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Potomac.
“The funding has turned out very well for Maryland,” said David Winstead, the Maryland secretary of transportation.
The House and Senate seem to be making progress on the transportation bill and should have a final bill before Congress adjourns Friday, said Chris McCannell, a spokesman for Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mitchellville.
If they cannot reach a final agreement before then, he said, a continuing resolution would likely be passed to keep federal transportation programs funded in the interim.