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Projects might not qualify for stimulus

January 01, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- It would be virtually impossible for county projects to qualify for federal stimulus funding under the list of conditions included in the stimulus bill under consideration by Congress, Washington County Director of Public Works Joe Kroboth said.

The proposed stimulus is part of President-elect Barack Obama's plan to create jobs through a federal investment in highway infrastructure, transit systems and other projects.

Kroboth said that as of Dec. 9, the bill would provide about $200 million to the Maryland State Highway Administration, but it only could be spent on projects that meet certain criteria. As of last week, he said that those included that projects must:

o Be ready to be advertised for construction bids within 180 days.

o Be located on a federal aid route as designated by the Federal Highway Administration.

o Have all necessary permits, approvals and rights of way before advertisement.

o Be completed within two years from the date construction is started.

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o Be new and not already funded under a capital improvement plan.

The last condition presents a major obstacle to any county project qualifying for the funds because any project that stands a chance of clearing all of the hurdles in six months already is in the county's capital improvement plan, which schedules and funds projects up to six years in advance, Kroboth said.

When Kroboth briefed the Washington County Commissioners on the bill Dec. 9, Commissioner James F. Kercheval said the provision seemed illogical.

"You almost have to have this perfect project that you already have the right of way, it doesn't have any environmental issues," Kercheval said. "It's kind of silly how the rules kind of preclude you from doing anything."

That limitation is not unique to Washington County, Kroboth said. Maryland State Highway Administrator Neil Pedersen, who keeps tabs on road projects throughout the state, told Kroboth earlier this month that the only projects in the state that would qualify under the bill as written were existing state contracts for resurfacing projects, Kroboth said.

The bill still is undergoing revision and legislators are likely to relax some of the conditions due to strong opposition, Kroboth said. He encouraged the Washington County Commissioners to join in that effort.

"The elected officials at the local level, meaning counties and states, really need to be talking to the federal elected officials and explaining to them what it's really going to take for this money to be usable," Kroboth said.

Meanwhile, Kroboth said the county is moving forward with the design of several priority projects in hopes that they will become eligible. Those include:

o The widening of Eastern Boulevard between Jefferson Boulevard and Security Road.

o An extension to Eastern Boulevard from the YMCA to Leitersburg Pike.

o The widening of the Robinwood Drive corridor between Medical Campus Road and Hagerstown Community College.

o The second phase of improvements to Maugans Avenue.

Those projects are in the design phase, are on federal aid routes and feasibly could be ready to advertise within six months, Kroboth said. However, they already are in the county's capital improvement plan.

"We're going to do everything we possibly can to get them ready in the event that some of those conditions are changed," he said.

Construction of a bypass around Funkstown, known as Southern Boulevard, would be harder to have ready within six months, but the county could try to accelerate preparations, Kroboth said.

County officials also could encourage the state to try to move forward projects such as replacement of the Interstate 81 bridge over the Potomac River and the widening of Interstates 70 and 81.

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