- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

BALTIMORE | Transportation projects totaling $1.1 billion over the next five years will be deferred because of the state’s budget problems, Maryland Transportation Secretary John Porcari said Wednesday.

The cuts will not involve safety or system preservation programs that maintain existing roads, tunnels, bridges and transit systems. But most new projects added last winter must be deferred because of the economic downturn, Mr. Porcari said.

Department officials have a “fix it first” philosophy, he said.

Projects should resume once the economy improves, but the deferments will reduce the department’s six-year capital projects program to $9.4 billion.

Several programs will be cut, including $529 million in State Highway Administration projects; $179 million for MARC commuter rail service projects; $35 million less for buses, bus repairs and bus stops; and $24 million less for the Baltimore region’s light-rail system.

Mr. Porcari said three main sources of revenue for his department - taxes on fuels and registration and titling fees - are expected to be $115 million less than originally forecast as fewer vehicles are sold and motorists drive less.

The fuel tax is expected to produce $18 million less than forecast for fiscal 2009, which began in July, as Marylanders are expected to drive 4 percent less. Fuel tax receipts typically increase 1 percent to 2 percent a year, Mr. Porcari said.

Meanwhile, titling taxes are expected to be $82 million lower.

Other revenues, including registration revenues, are projected to drop $15 million, the department said.

State lawmakers added $450 million in transportation projects during a special session called last year to deal with an expected budget shortfall. About $50 million of those projects were cut during the legislature’s regular session this spring. All but about $265 million will be deferred, Mr. Porcari said.

Mr. Porcari said that he will be meeting with the governor’s office this week and will brief state lawmakers next week. Meetings with county officials begin next week.

Local governments will receive less money because of the reduced revenues, but the formula used to determine those payments won’t change, Mr. Porcari said.

The transportation secretary also noted that federal highway aid is in jeopardy for the “first time in anyone’s memory” and that some payments will be delayed or reduced.

Federal funding is the largest single component of the capital program, accounting for about 15 percent, Mr. Porcari said. How much of that money the state won’t receive is not clear.

“Think of it as their cash flow problems becomes our cash flow problem, immediately,” Mr. Porcari said. “We’re in uncharted waters here. So, we know it will have a very serious and immediate impact. How severe, we’re all speculating at this point.”

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