- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 17, 2007

FREDERICK — Frederick County officials vetted numerous proposals during a transportation summit yesterday to widen the county’s major highways, build a bypass around Frederick city and establish a public-private partnership to manage Interstate 270.

County Commissioner Charles Jenkins and Frederick AldermanC. Paul Smith convened transportation officials and elected leaders from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia for the public summit to find traffic relief for Frederick, which has become a nexus of congestion for commuters pushing farther from their jobs.

“From Baltimore and Washington in an evening rush hour, you have 23,000 cars converging on Frederick. … They have to go through Frederick before they go north and south and west,” Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Smith, a Republican, is pushing for the state to build a bypass around the city, but most officials yesterday focused on adding lanes to I-270 and considering a public-private partnership to run the highway.

“Ongoing right now is the planning for I-270. That’s about as high priority as it gets,” said Mr. Jenkins, a Republican. “This is not a problem Frederick County can solve alone.”

Local officials likely will have trouble finding money from the state, which has a $1.5 billion structural budget deficit and is considering multiple taxes likely to be unpopular with voters.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, proposed raising the state’s gas tax 12.5 cents per gallon this year, and Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, has supported a gas tax to fund state transportation projects. But Frederick officials are skeptical that a significant portion of the gas tax would find its way back to their coffers.

“Our money for fixing transportation problems comes from the gas tax,” said Delegate Richard B. Weldon Jr., Frederick Republican. “My problem is it disproportionately funds mass-transit improvements that don’t improve the commuting lives of our residents.”

County Commissioner John L. “Lennie” Thompson said he is lobbying to give the county the right to install electronic tolls on state and federal roads and highways, which would pay directly for county road improvements.

“The gas tax at the state level is not a solution for traffic congestion in Frederick County. The increases in the gas taxes revenue go back to these two places called Annapolis and Washington and get mixed up in this bureaucratic nightmare,” said Mr. Thompson, a Republican. “We’ll do the heavy lifting here locally. We’ll take the heat.”

Representatives of the state’s Department of Transportation said everyone is feeling the squeeze of unmet needs and shrinking resources but that the state continues to distribute money based on how local leaders prioritize projects.

“Every year then, based on the available funding we have statewide and based on the priorities we receive from all the counties, the department puts together the list of projects of what should be advanced,” said Raja Veeramachaneni, planning and preliminary engineering director for the State Highway Administration.