A state transportation official admits that it is unlikely that Frederick County will get the $169 million it needs to help relieve congestion and improve safety for the thousands of motorists who travel daily on the area’s busy major highways.
Jack Cahalan, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation, warned that Maryland has no money for new highway projects. Painting a bleak picture of the state’s transportation funding woes, Cahalan said it is unlikely the money will be available anytime soon.
“Those levels of funding will remain flat for the forseeable future,” Cahalan said in an interview this week. “There is no money for new projects. How it has usually worked is that you invest in the infrastructure we already have built, and once you have done that, you can build new. But after [the economic turndown in 2008] we were hit pretty hard, and now we’re at the point where were just maintaining what we have.”
Nonetheless, Cahalan encouraged the Frederick County Board of Commissioners to make their pitch for the $169 million when officials from the state transportation department visit Frederick next week. The commissioners were scheduled to meet with state officials last month but that was canceled due to Superstorm Sandy.
The meeting will now be held at 7 p.m. Nov. 28, in the first-floor hearing room of Winchester Hall, 12 E. Church St., in downtown Frederick.
Commissioners will ask that three major projects be included in the Maryland Consolidated Transportation Program, a construction budget that outlines funding for roads across the state.
When the Maryland General Assembly reconvenes in January, lawmakers will review the entire state’s construction budget, voting on which projects will be funded.
The county commissioners’ projects include $13.8 million to purchase 35 acres of land and another $68.5 million for the construction of a new interchange at U.S. 15 Monocacy Boulevard in Frederick. The total cost of the new interchange would be $91.2 million.
Final design of the interchange is expected to be completed this year but because funding was unavailable for construction, there is no estimate as to when it will be done.
The county is also seeking $1 million for the construction of a $30.9-million interchange at Interstate 70 and Meadow Road in Frederick. The county has already allocated $500,000 to planning for it.
The project would add a ramp from eastbound I-70 to Old National Pike and another from Old National Pike to westbound I-70.
The interchange is intended to improve traffic along Old National Pike, where some 14,000 vehicles travel daily.
The commissioners also want another $4.9 million to design the widening of Md. 85, known as Buckeystown Pike, south of Crestwood Boulevard to English Muffin Way in Frederick to a four-lane divided highway. The total cost of that project would be $46.9 million.
About 30,000 cars travel daily on Md. 85, according to State Highway Adminstration figures.
Although it is unlikely the county will get state funding for those projects, Cahalan said it is important to hear from commissioners, officials and residents.
“I believe the meeting is always very important,” he said. “It is great to hear from elected leaders and the community. It’s important to hear what is important to them. We’re currently traveling around the state hearing from other jurisdictions.... It’s important to hear from local jurisdictions so we can look into the future and plan ahead. Hopefully, at some point, the economy will recover, and we will have these projects in the pipeline.”
Commissioner’s President Blaine R. Young (R) said he is frustrated that state funds are lacking for new projects but the county has no intention of waiting for their help.
Young said the lack of state money will not slow or stop development in the county. Builders must now cough up money if they want their development to be approved, he said.
For example, the developers of the Landsdale Planned Unit Development, which will bring 1,100 homes to the southern part of the county, have agreed to pay for road improvements on Md. 80 in Monrovia. The homes will be built on 396 acres on the west side of McClain Road, north of Md. 80 in Monrovia.
And the developers of the Jefferson Technology Park along the U.S. 340 and Md. 180 corridor have agreed to construct a $10 million interchange to accommodate development there. Developers have also agreed to put up another $25 million toward road improvements in the area.
“We’re not sitting around, we’re coming up with ways and concepts [to pay for the roads],” Young said. “We’re not waiting for the state.”
The lack of state transportation funding has also been a constant source of frustration for city officials. They are asking the state for more highway user revenues, and hope the General Assembly will consider their request during next year’s legislative session.
Highway user revenues, which are collected via transportation-related state taxes or fees such as the gasoline tax or car title fees, are usually distributed by the state to the municipalities to be used for road maintenance.
But since 2007, when the city received $3.05 million from the state in highway user fee revenue, the funding has declined sharply. The city received about $301,000 in fiscal 2012, and was budgeted to receive about $430,000 this year.
Maryland officials cut local transportation funding to address a state budget shortfall, and have since used it as a means of covering gaps in the budget instead of distributing it to jurisdictions.
Alderman Carol Krimm (D) said at a recent meeting that the city has a $11 million funding gap for road repairs and expansion.
Del. Galen Clagett (D), chairman of the eight-member county legislative delegation, has said that he would like to help the municipalities but wasn’t sure how much state funding would be available. He said municipalities such as Frederick, with a fund balance, might be able to help themselves by dipping into that surplus.
“Look, spend some of your own money,” he said. “We’ll do the best we can. We’re still looking at a [state] structural deficit. .... My position is going to be to help them if I can, but I have to look at the budget. There’s certain things mandated in the budget, and that’s not one of them.”
Meanwhile, state budget analysts are warning lawmakers in Annapolis to come up with alternative revenue sources to fund major transportation projects.
Neil C. Bergsman, director of the nonprofit Budget & Tax Policy Institute, has said a gas tax hike would likely be the most effective revenue generator but would probably be harder to pass in the future as the number of hybrid and electric cars increases.
Maryland has not raised its 23.5 cents-per-gallon gas tax since 1992, and although Gov. Martin O’Malley proposed adding the state’s 6 percent sales tax to gasoline earlier this year, the proposal stalled in the legislature.
The governor has not yet decided whether to reintroduce the proposal in the 2013 legislative session.
Staff Writers Tripp Laino and Daniel Leaderman contributed to this story.