By Kate Alexander
WASHINGTON – Three Maryland representatives asked a House subcommittee for more than $137 million for transportation projects Wednesday at a hearing that launched the annual wrangling for limited federal transportation funds.
But a state transportation official said the request, by Democratic Reps. Ben Cardin and Elijah Cummings and Republican Rep. Connie Morella, were just the beginning of the funding Maryland will be seeking from this Congress.
The three were among dozens of other Congress members who offered House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation their laundry lists of state projects.
Cardin and Cummings, both of Baltimore, asked for a total of $45 million in city projects — which appeared quite modest in comparison to the $92 million sought by Morella, of Bethesda. Many of her projects, however, will reach throughout the state and were also supported by others in the state’s delegation.
Highlighting the contribution of public transportation to Baltimore’s economic future, Cardin asked for $8.6 million to build a second set of rail tracks along 9.4 miles of the Central Light Rail line to diminish delays for the commuter rail. He asked for funds to develop water-taxi service in Baltimore Harbor as an alternative to land-based commuting.
Cardin also wants $4 million for “reverse commute” programs that help welfare recipients in the city travel to jobs in outlying areas, a request that was seconded by Morella.
Cummings asked for $25 million to expand and replace the aging buses in the city’s fleet, and said he was hopeful that the projects, particularly the bus proposal, would win funding this year.
“Congress seems to be pushing public transportation more and more,” he said after testifying.
He said proposals that would improve existing infrastructure have a better chance at funding than projects starting from scratch. Nevertheless, he also requested $5 million for a feasibility study on future rails lines for Baltimore, a request that grew out of Mayor Martin O’Malley’s new transportation task force.
Morella — who missed her turn to testify and submitted her request in writing — said the top priorities are the expansion of MARC and of bus service to alleviate congestion that is repeatedly cited as among the worst in the country.
She asked for $25 million to boost the local bus fleets and facilities throughout the state and $3 million to fund the next study phase of Maglev, the high-speed rail pilot project proposed to cut travel between Baltimore and Washington to 16 minutes. Cardin also expressed his support for these efforts.
Other programs listed by Morella include:
— $6.7 million to acquire land and build a connection between MARC’s Camden and Penn lines.
— $5 million to construct the Silver Spring Intermodal Transit Center, which is part of the state’s efforts to expand MARC service.
— $14.1 million to buy 50 Metro buses.
–A total of $19.3 million for the state’s Intelligent Transportation Systems, such as highway traffic cameras and sensors.
— $2 million to create a joint operations and communications center for Montgomery County’s Transportation Management Center and its new Emergency Communications Center for police and fire/rescue agencies.
–$13.3 million to reconstruct Maryland Routes 117 and 124 in Montgomery County.
— $3 million in project engineering funds for Georgia Avenue at Brookeville.
— $1.5 million in project planning funds to construct a busway from Wheaton to Rockville along Viers Mill Road.
— and $2 million to improve systems for response to hazardous materials and passenger train incidents.
The proposals reflect a coordinated effort between the congressional delegation and the governor as well as the individual members’ wishes, said Maryland Department of Transportation spokesman Jack Cahalan.
He said Wednesday’s hearing was only one of several avenues for legislators to submit proposals and the absence of a project now “does not mean that the door is closed.”
Members have until April 6 to include their projects for consideration. Cahalan said that, although these projects are concentrated in the Baltimore- Washington corridor, he expects the final submissions to represent projects throughout the state.