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Steele speaks at dinner

December 13, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Lt. Gov.-elect Michael Steele told a trucking industry group Thursday that the new administration will try to avoid raising the gas tax.

Steele also assured the largely Western Maryland audience that their needs in transportation and other areas will not be forgotten.

"I know a lot of people here feel like they're cut off. I'm here to tell you, you do matter," Steele told the audience of about 100 people at the Four Points Sheraton in Hagerstown.

"It's important we make sure the resources reach here as much as they reach downtown Baltimore," he said.

Steele spoke at a dinner sponsored by the Maryland Motor Truck Association's Western Maryland Chapter.

Steele said he and Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. have their work cut out for them when they take office in January. They will have to close a budget gap of nearly $2 billion.

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He said they also will have to come up with "creative" ways to address the transportation problem.

The state's highway and mass transportation systems are funded largely through gas taxes and vehicle taxes and fees.

There isn't enough money in that fund to pay for the projects needed in Washington County and around the state, Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said in September.

Ehrlich has promised to build the Intercounty Connector, an expensive highway intended to relieve congestion around the D.C. Beltway.

Washington County is requesting millions to widen Interstate 81 to three lanes in each direction and to extend the Hagerstown Regional Airport runway from 5,450 feet to 7,000 feet.

Steele said after his speech that the new administration will try to leverage more federal money to make up the shortfall.

Steele said the state is committed to education, including the success of the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center in downtown Hagers-town.

The Maryland Motor Truck Association would support a gas tax increase if it were spent on highways, said President and CEO Walter C. Thompson.

"We have some concerns over the past few years the money is being siphoned off for mass transit use and not being used for the highways," he said.

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