- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2003

ANNAPOLIS The Ehrlich administration's entry into the high-stakes battle for federal transportation funds for the next six years will include 25 highway and mass-transit projects scattered throughout the state.
The plan released yesterday signals a shift in emphasis from subways and light-rail systems to what Transportation Secretary Robert Flanagan called "bus rapid transit."
While Mr. Flanagan said final decisions have not been made, the administration will consider using buses instead of rail cars for two projects in Montgomery County and a proposed extension of the Baltimore subway system's Red Line.
The top-priority project is also the most expensive more than $800 million in planning and construction money for a new highway that would connect Interstate 270 in Montgomery County with Interstate 95 in Prince George's County.
"This is simply a wish list. There are not enough dollars to go around," said Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
He said he has enlisted the help of the Maryland congressional delegation for the battle for federal funds that he said will be complicated and "at times ugly."
"In some respects, it's about power politics," Mr. Ehrlich said.
The governor said he plans to use his connections with President Bush and the White House to push Maryland's case.
While most of the projects are in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, Mr. Ehrlich included seven initiatives outside Central Maryland.
On the Eastern Shore, Mr. Ehrlich will ask for $13.2 million to widen the Snow Hill bypass on U.S. 113 in Worcester County, $12.9 million to add two lanes to Maryland 404 in Caroline County and $22.3 million to construct a new Dover bridge across the Choptank River on Maryland 331.
The plan includes $44.5 million for two interchanges in Frederick County on Interstate 70 and Interstate 270 and $10.6 million in design funds for widening of Interstate 81 in Washington County.
The governor also is asking for $34.2 million to build a bypass around Hughesville in Charles County.
Mr. Flanagan said the department is studying bus rapid transit to see if it can provide a cheaper and quicker way than new rail lines to solve transportation problems in congested areas.
The department would use a new style of bigger, more luxurious buses that he said resemble subway cars and would make the service more attractive to consumers.
In some areas, special lanes could be designated for the buses so they would not face traffic jams. In areas where separate lanes are not available, the department could build passing lanes at intersections so buses would not have to wait in line to get through traffic lights.
But Mr. Flanagan said light rail is also still a possibility for Baltimore's Red Line, a Corridor Cities Transitway in Montgomery County from Shady Grove to Clarksburg and the proposed Purple Line Metro route in the Washington suburbs, which the administration has renamed the Bi-County Transitway.
The administration is asking for $15 million in planning money for each of those three projects with the understanding it can ask for additional construction money later.
Other items on the list are $250 million to increase capacity of MARC commuter-rail lines, $120 million for bus service in rural and urban areas and $29 million for a bus-rapid-transit system running from Waldorf through three Southern Maryland counties to the Branch Avenue Metro station at the Capital Beltway.

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