- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will add $4 billion in new projects to the state’s six-year transportation program, a big increase made possible in large part by the governor’s increases in motor vehicle fees approved by the General Assembly last spring.

At a press conference yesterday, Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, thanked lawmakers who voted for his $237 million revenue package, saying their support will make possible highway and mass-transit projects in every corner of the state. He noted that the registration fee increases passed with bipartisan support, but chided Democrats who voted against them and warned, “At some point, I expect they will have to explain their votes to the folks back home.”

The 123 major projects come after three years in which little was added to the six-year plan, said Jack Cahalan, spokesman for Transportation Secretary Robert Flanagan.

Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, refused during his eight years as governor to approve a gasoline tax increase or increases in motor vehicle fees, leaving the state with enough money to work on projects already in the pipeline but with little money to expand the transportation program, Mr. Cahalan said.

Most of the projects added to the six-year plan had been announced at local press conferences held by the governor and transportation officials across the state in the past nine months, but 12 projects, including long-delayed Eastern Shore projects, were revealed for the first time yesterday.

The governor will provide about $3.2 million for planning and purchase of rights of way for the widening of U.S. 113 south of Snow Hill in Worcester County and $3.8 million for the Denton bypass on Maryland 404. In both cases, two-lane roads will be converted into divided, four-lane highways.

Other new projects include $14.5 million for work on Interstate 70 and the extension of Maryland 475, $83.9 million for an interchange at Interstate 95 and Maryland 24, and $1.3 million planning money for widening the Baltimore Beltway between Interstates 83 and 95.

The governor’s revenue package last year increased fees for most passenger vehicles from $81 to $128 every two years and fees for bigger vehicles, including sport utility vehicles, from $108 to $180.

He originally proposed a $320 million plan that also included surcharges of $200 on fines for drunken driving and $50 for speeding, but those were killed by the House Judiciary Committee. Mr. Ehrlich said he does not know whether he will try again for the surcharges on traffic violations, but he said such a move would have little chance of success if Delegate Joseph F. Vallario Jr., Prince George’s Democrat and chairman of the House committee, continues to oppose using traffic fines as a revenue source for transportation projects.

The governor said he will not consider an increase in the gasoline tax, which he rejected last year, in part because of the big increases in the price of gasoline.

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