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Stimulus money options discussed

March 09, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- Federal stimulus funding will help reverse some cutbacks across the state, but the money is not a cure-all, state officials said at a meeting for Western Maryland leaders held Monday afternoon at Hagerstown Community College.

For example, the stimulus will invest about $610 million in transportation in Maryland, but that doesn't come close to covering the $2.1 billion in transportation-related capital projects the state deferred due to the economic downturn, said Israel "Izzy" C. Patoka, a spokesman for Gov. Martin O'Malley's office.

Local governments in Maryland submitted about $5.5 billion worth of projects for consideration for transportation stimulus funds, according to Donald A. Halligan, director of planning and capital programming for the Maryland Department of Transportation.

Washington County's transportation request included "shovel-ready" projects such as replacement of the Mills Road bridge near Sharpsburg, as well as slightly farther-out projects, such as adding lanes to the intersection of Halfway and Massey boulevards near Valley Mall, according to Washington County Director of Public Works Joseph Kroboth. Projects from the City of Hagerstown and several Washington County towns were included in the list, Kroboth said.

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A small fraction of those projects might be funded in phase II of the state's transportation recovery program, Halligan said. About $273 million will be made available for that phase, some of which might be spent on county and local projects, he said.

Halligan did not announce which projects would receive funds, but he outlined the selection criteria his department plans to use.

The Maryland Department of Transportation will try to spread the funding equitably across the state and include a diverse mix of project types to avoid overwhelming contractors, Halligan said. The state will give repair and maintenance projects preference over new construction, he said.

The money will go to capital projects, not operating expenses, Halligan said.

Transportation projects must be federal-aid eligible, which means they must have completed all preconstruction steps, including planning and design, and must already be included within a capital program, Halligan said.

Most phase II transportation projects will have to be ready to start using the funds within a year, but preference will be given to those that are ready to go, he said.

Other departments were also overwhelmed with requests for a piece of the stimulus, officials said.

The state received $3.6 billion worth of water-quality and drinking-water project requests, but has only $123 million to award, said Jag Khuman, Water Quality Financing Administration director for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

"We need to lower some expectations here," Khuman said.

The department is reviewing the requests, rating them on their benefits to water quality and public health, and ranking the most critical projects according to readiness, he said.

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