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State will aid runway efforts

January 30, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - At risk of losing a $54 million federal grant, Maryland transportation officials said Wednesday the state will put up its share to extend the Hagerstown Regional Airport runway.

Maryland Aviation Administration Executive Director Paul J. Wiedefeld told Washington County lawmakers and airport officials Wednesday that he will put the state's $8 million commitment in writing to the Federal Aviation Administration.

In recent weeks, after learning that the federal grant could be lost without quick action, local lawmakers began heavily lobbying transportation officials in the new Republican administration of Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

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It was a difficult task because the state is not taking in enough money in gas taxes and other vehicle fees to pay for transportation projects needed throughout the state.

Robert Flanagan, Ehrlich's nominee for transportation secretary, said Ehrlich is working on a plan to fix that problem.

"In the meantime, this is so important that we don't want to let this opportunity go by. We're maybe stretching to do this," Flanagan said.

Washington County government offered to help by allowing the state to pay for the project over eight years, starting in 2004, Airport Manager Carolyn Motz said.

The extended runway is scheduled to open in late 2006 at a total cost of $68 million, she said.

The runway needs to be extended to about 7,000 feet or the airport could risk losing its scheduled passenger service, Motz said. Right now two airlines offer flights to Pittsburgh and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Washington County lawmakers, who organized Wednesday's meeting, said they were pleased.

Former Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari gave his verbal commitment to the project two years ago but nothing was ever put in writing, said delegation Chairman Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

"This is a reflection of the governor's commitment to getting projects done in the rural areas," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

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