- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2007

Officials in Anne Arundel County are seeking $5 billion to improve roads and mass transit to accommodate thousands of new military and civilian employees expected at Fort George G. Meade by 2011.

Plans include upgrading the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, beginning in 2009, and extending the Metrorail Green Line from Greenbelt to Fort Meade, a $3 billion endeavor.

But a quick infusion of transportation funds is unlikely because the state and federal budgets that would fund the projects face deficits.

“It’s going to be a tough sell because the amount of transportation dollars is finite and the amount of transportation needs is infinite,” said County Executive John R. Leopold, a Republican.

Most of Anne Arundel’s transportation projects are not funded past the planning stage.

Mr. Leopold has asked the state to “fast track” a quarter of the projects, estimated at $1 billion, saying they need to be completed within the next four or five years. State officials have not said whether they will do so.

That means only one project — an upgrade of the Odenton MARC Station — will be done when the military’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) plan brings more than 10,000 new workers to the county by September 2011.

Some of six road-improvement projects could be under construction when new Fort Meade workers are expected to crowd highways.

One of Mr. Leopold’s top priorities is widening Route 175, which connects the military site to Interstate 95. Construction is set to begin in 2012, but Mr. Leopold has asked the state to speed up the project.

Samuel F. Minnitte Jr., planning director for the state Department of Transportation, said the agency could not make promises about specific roads.

“We understand the urgency of trying to move it through the process, but our focus is more on trying to develop the statewide strategy than focusing on an independent plan,” he said.

Since 1989, BRAC commissions have recommended closing or restructuring more than 350 U.S. military bases around the world. Maryland stands to gain 45,000 jobs at bases across the state in the latest round of recommendations.

Mr. Minnitte did not say whether any projects would be fast-tracked.

A tight budget forces counties to compete for funds. Maryland plans to spend $9 billion on transportation construction statewide over the next six years.

In the meantime, Anne Arundel County will try to add or lengthen turn lanes and adjust signal timing at several intersections to alleviate traffic pressure, said George Cardwell, county planning administrator.

“It’s a Band-Aid approach, admittedly, but it’s one thing we can really do that will be done before people get here,” he said.

The price tag for those projects is not included in the $5 billion because county officials don’t yet know how much it will cost.

Mr. Cardwell said the county also will encourage the use of public transportation and ride-sharing to keep cars off roads. It would be impossible to finish widening Route 175 or any of the other roads before 2011, he said, though fast-tracking a project might mean shaving a year off the estimated completion date.

Mr. Leopold’s other priorities are widening a section of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and a section of Route 198. He doesn’t expect the Metrorail extension for another 30 years.

“These improvements will likely come in a piecemeal basis because of these funding realities,” he said. “We’re talking about doing it in stages.”

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