- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2008

BALTIMORE (AP) | Area officials have decided to spend about $340 million over 20 years on mass-transit projects.

The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board took the action last week in response to the concerns of citizen advisers and transit advocates, who have contended the board’s previous long-range plans put too much emphasis on road projects.

The money comes mostly from November’s special General Assembly session, which included tax increases to generate revenue specifically for transportation projects.

The board’s vote represents a change in priorities that illustrates concerns about air pollution and gasoline prices.

“People are really interested in taking mass transit,” said Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, the board’s chairman.

Jack Cahalan, a spokesman for the state Transportation Department, said its representatives on the board supported the move at the direction of Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, and Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari.

“It is a recognition of the region’s need for better transit,” Mr. Cahalan said. “It is a starting point, is what it comes down to.”

The decision will add an average of about $20 million per year for capital spending on transit projects, Mr. Cahalan said. State money can be used to leverage federal funds for transit projects.

With the growing cost of road projects, Mr. Ulman said regional leaders decided to get “more bang for our buck” by focusing on transit projects.

The money could be used for a variety of purposes, including the extension of Baltimore’s subway toward Morgan State University or improvements to the MARC commuter train system, Mr. Ulman said.

The board plans to use a three-part process to seek input on the specific projects to be added to the long-range plan. It will meet Wednesday with its citizens advisory committee, which had pushed for larger transit investments. It has also scheduled workshops and hearings for next month.

After a comment period, the board will spend four months identifying projects that could be funded with the added money. A second review phase will come early next year.

Ed Cohen, past president of the Transit Riders Action Council, said the money is not enough on its own to fund a large project such as a transit line. But he called the action significant because it could lead to further changes the next time the long-term plan, which still allocates far more money to roads than transit, is redrafted.

“There’s no question they listened to what the public said,” Mr. Cohen said. “They said all of the $340 million, not three-quarters of it. That’s a political statement.”

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