ANNAPOLIS – On the heels of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s announcement that he will build a long-desired road bypass in Hughesville, Southern Maryland lawmakers are pushing for more transportation improvements.
Sen. Roy P. Dyson, D-St. Mary’s, has proposed creating a commission to examine the region’s transportation needs. The task force would suggest transit options in the area and identify solutions for Southern Maryland’s road woes.
“Roads are not our only transportation option,” Dyson said, but, he added later, “… roads are the only answer right now.”
Other priority projects in the region include expansions of Chancellor’s Run Road in St. Mary’s County and the intersection of Routes 4 and 231 in Calvert County.
But the governor’s proposal to fund construction of popular road projects in Southern Maryland — and statewide — with revenues from fee increases has raised eyebrows among the region’s delegation, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert.
“The problem with this administration is we can’t even get enough money to repair bridges, much less build a Waldorf Bypass or a Hughesville Bypass,” he said.
The governor’s initiatives to fund transportation are inadequate, Miller said, and he said that he’s not seen the bills Ehrlich needs to impose the fees come to the General Assembly.
“The session’s almost half over and we have yet to fund anything meaningful in the state of Maryland,” Miller said.
While the Southern Maryland delegation supports transportation projects in its region, opinions on projects and funding options differ.
Dyson’s bill looks to examine the area’s population concentration and overload on roads. It would also assess the feasibility of creating a passenger rail service to the region by using territory once used by freight and passenger trains.
“We can’t look at the future of transportation in Southern Maryland without having some kind of a rail system,” Dyson said.
But some of Dyson’s colleagues countered that using old rail territory to set up a mass transit system costs more than just building more roads — something the state is already having a hard time funding.
Delegate John F. Wood, D-St. Mary’s, said similar studies in the past have not yielded answers for the region’s transportation needs. If the state can’t fund road constructions, he said, establishing mass transit could be unaffordable.
“I’m not even sure that’s workable at this particular time,” he said, adding that much of the rail right-of-way has been acquired by governments and planted with utility lines. The cost to remove those utilities and set up a new rail system would be astronomical, he said.
Dyson represents portions of St. Mary’s, Calvert and Charles County — which have seen explosive growth in recent years from population shifts and Patuxent River Naval Air Base operations’ expansion, while saddled with antiquated roads ill-equipped to handle the heavy north-south traffic, he said.
Charles County Commissioner Al Smith said he supports efforts to improve transportation in the region and he liked that Ehrlich acknowledged the tri-county region’s needs.
“We should not be forgotten in this part of the state,” Smith said.
Ehrlich’s top road priority in Southern Maryland, the Hughesville Bypass, has been on the books for decades, stalled most recently by the state’s fiscal problems.
On Monday, Ehrlich went to the bypass site to vow to fund and build the project, which he said would increase safety and alleviate bottlenecks at the intersections of state Routes 5 and 231.
Ehrlich plans to generate about $345 million for transportation in fiscal year 2005 through user fees, surcharges and revised revenue forecasts and bonding capacities. He said some of those funds would pay for construction of the bypass — which state officials in November said would cost an estimated $35 million. – 30 – CNS-2-17-04