Official says state can't afford runway extension

September 20, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

The Maryland Department of Transportation can't afford to add $8 million to its budget for Hagerstown Regional Airport's runway extension project, Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said Thursday.

Porcari told local elected officials he realizes they have designated the runway project as their top transportation priority and agrees it is important.

But unless the state increases its transportation budget, there won't be enough money for that and many other worthy projects around the state, he said during his annual presentation of the state's transportation plan in Hagerstown.


Airport Manager Carolyn Motz said work on the long-term $68 million project will continue despite the news.

"It's not fazing us. I'm undaunted," she said.

The state will be more likely to put money in its budget once the federal government, which is paying for the bulk of the runway extension, commits money, she said.

That commitment could come by December, when the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to sign a letter of intent to proceed with lengthening the runway from 5,450 feet to 7,000 feet.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, questioned Porcari about the runway toward the end of a 90-minute meeting during which the state outlined $107 million in transportation projects scheduled from 2003 through 2008.

Washington County decided about four years ago to seek a longer runway to ensure the airport does not become obsolete.

Two other large projects in which Washington County is interested were not fully funded in the six-year plan.

The state is still developing a plan for widening of Interstate 81 through Washington County, Porcari said.

Next summer the state expects to get public comment on several options for the project, which probably will be done in several phases.

Also, there is no money to build Southern Boulevard, which would essentially serve as a bypass of Funkstown.

"We have a very limited ability to add projects," Porcari said.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said he learned about the magnitude of the problem during a presentation last week to the Commission on Maryland's Fiscal Structure, on which he serves.

State transportation officials are facing unexpected cost overruns on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project and $200 million for security at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in the wake of Sept. 11.

"It's going to be a tough go in Annapolis over the next several years," he said.

One option for raising money for transportation is to increase the gas tax. Maryland's tax has remained at 23.5 cents per gallon for the last 10 years, he said.

Munson said the state, which pays for two public transit systems, should consider regional taxation.

McKee said legislators will carefully consider any tax increase recommendations from the task force on which Munson serves.

"You can't always say no to increases if you want the return at the other end," he said.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said the state should look at options other than tax increases such as earmarking part of the sales tax for transportation. That idea, proposed by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, last term, was defeated in the Senate.

The state also could divert money from mass transportation to highway projects. Right now, users pay about half the cost of public transportation and the state pays the other half.

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