- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 7, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Tucked away among the billions of dollars the state will receive in federal transportation aid in the next six years are a few million dollars to pay for projects for Marylanders who like to travel on two feet or two wheels.

In addition to money for highways, bridges and mass transit, the state will receive more than $10 million to design and build seven trails in rural and urban areas from Allegany County to the Eastern Shore where hikers and bikers won’t have to cope with the noise and safety hazards that come with riding on highways.

Maryland’s congressional delegation added the funding to the $286.4 billion national transportation bill that Congress approved in July.

The members also were able to get money for other purposes not normally associated with transportation, including visitor centers for parks, parking facilities and a “park and float” project to encourage more use of water taxis in Baltimore’s harbor.

Maryland’s share of the national transportation funding pie will be more than $4.3 billion in the next six years, including about $3.5 billion for highways and $846 million for mass transit.

More than 90 percent of the money will go to the state Department of Transportation with no strings attached. The department will use it to fund projects in the state’s transportation plan.

But $375 million must be used for 101 projects that were added by Maryland’s delegation as the transportation package moved through Congress.

Those projects — called “earmarks” in Congress — are deemed by critics to be legislative “pork” that serves primarily to help lawmakers get re-elected. Money collected from taxpayers to improve transportation should be used for the most pressing needs, not to keep voters happy, critics say.

“While we recognize the importance of improved hiking and biking trails in our state, we currently have a transportation crisis where more and more Marylanders are spending a great deal of time on their daily commutes to and from work,” said Ragina Averella, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Richard Falknor, executive vice president of the Maryland Taxpayers Association Inc., a government watchdog group, said taxpayers “should have their gasoline tax go for roads. That’s what it’s for.”

He said projects such as trails are easy targets, although his organization focuses more on mass transit, which he said consumes much larger amounts of money that should be used for the highway system.

But pork or not, congressional earmarks, which often amount to a few hundred thousand or few million dollars, help speed up projects that are important on a local level, such as making a dangerous intersection safer, repairing a crumbling bridge and eliminating a traffic bottleneck. Or, for that matter, building trails.

In Allegany County, economic development officials have been working for years to get more federal aid to help complete a missing segment of the Allegheny Highlands Trail in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

The new transportation bill includes $3.6 million for a 9.3-mile section from Cumberland to Piney Mountain.

In Queen Anne’s County, a $305,000 grant will help complete a 2.5-mile stretch of trail starting in Centreville that will be a spur of the cross-island trail on Kent Island.

The trails in Allegany and Queen Anne’s are two of seven in the transportation bill, including two in Baltimore, two in Anne Arundel County and one at Chestertown.

Most of the 101 earmarks in the federal bill deal directly with transportation. They provide money for small projects throughout the state, some of which have been in the planning stage for years.

Other earmarks include $80,000 for a study of “conflicts between traffic and light rail” in Linthicum in Anne Arundel County, $2.6 million for a garage and pedestrian bridge at Coppin State University in Baltimore and $16.9 million for visitors centers and related improvements at Fort McHenry, Assateague Island and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

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