Officials: Transportation cuts will be noticeable
Reduction in county transportation funding outlined in annual meeting
Do not expect much in new roads or maintenance in the fiscal 2011 budget, state transportation officials told a group of Prince George's County leaders.
"We hoped that by this time, we'd be ahead [on the economy]," Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley said to leaders at an annual meeting Nov. 4 to discuss transportation funding for the county. "But as you know we've had a tumultuous year."
Economic losses have led to major state cutbacks, leaving Prince George's with about $1.6 million for road construction in the next fiscal year from the State Highway Administration, and upkeep is expected to be cut so much that the reduction in pothole repairs, road striping and mowing will be noticeable.
"Now we're getting into our operating budget [on cuts]," said Neil Pedersen, administrator for the SHA. "We will manage the best we can, but it can't help but be noticed."
The state has tentatively scheduled about $74 million in the capital budget for repairs and safety upgrades in the county in fiscal 2011, which starts July 1.
Officials were unable to say by press time how much was budgeted in fiscal 2010.
In September 2008, the struggling economy resulted in Prince George's County having more than $160 million in transportation projects pulled from the six-year timetable for construction, the most in the state. At the time, state officials kept funding operational repair budgets across Maryland.
Pedersen and Swaim-Staley could not say how much the operational highway budget, which includes maintenance projects such as striping and mowing, will be in the upcoming fiscal year. Figures on operational spending were not available at the meeting.
Pedersen and Swaim-Staley emphasized that Prince George's has more planned projects on the books than most other counties in the state. Figures for construction spending in other counties were not available at the meeting.
The $1.6 million will fund construction on two projects in Prince George's. The state is spending $752,000 to widen a 1-mile-long portion of Branch Avenue between Accokeek Road and Route 301 in Brandywine and $921,000 to replace a bridge over Federal Spring Branch on Old Marlboro Road in Upper Marlboro.
The Branch Avenue project had come in for less than the SHA planned, and the bridge project was only funded because the state received money from last year's federal stimulus to cover costs, Pedersen said.
"These are really the only things we have left," Swaim-Staley said.
Using a combination of federal funding and revenue from state gas taxes, license and registration fees and car sales taxes, the state plans to eventually spend $5.4 million to help design three separate road improvements along the Branch Avenue corridor between the Capital Beltway and Route 301, Pedersen said. But high costs for doing the actual construction will likely delay the work.
For example, Pedersen said, a project to upgrade Branch Avenue over 10.5 miles from the Beltway to Route 301 to handle the 102,000 cars that travel on the road each day is estimated to take $700 million.
"As you can see, these are adding up," Pedersen said.
Only three of the 20 planned county projects will receive any state funding next year.
Other projects in the county include the Intercounty Connector highway in Laurel, which is being funded through bonds.
County and state lawmakers asked few questions at the meeting.
"Unfortunately, this is where our budget is," said state Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Dist. 25) of District Heights, chairman of the state Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.
E-mail Daniel Valentine at firstname.lastname@example.org.