Page 9

THE GAZETTE

Wednesday, August 28, 2013 p

Page A-9

It’s highway vs. transit n

As gas tax money gets doled out, state says the split will be even

BY

KATE S. ALEXANDER STAFF WRITER

By the time Maryland finishes handing out $4.4 billion in new transportation funding, the money should spread evenly among road and transit priorities, according to the state. Maryland lawmakers this spring passed the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act, which raises the tax on gasoline and diesel, to bring $4.4 billion in new investment and 57,000 jobs in the next six years, officials said. The new law indexes the state’s current 23.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax, which has not been increased since 1992, to inflation but limits increases to 8 percent per year. The final list of projects funded under the new law will come out with the state’s Consolidated Transportation Program in early September, said Erin Henson, spokeswoman for Maryland’s Department of Transportation. When it comes to roads and transit priorities, the state looks to fund both about 50-50, she said. Henson said the state meets with each jurisdiction to understand what projects are a prior-

ity and works to fund those. State leaders have so far announced $1.9 billion in projects funded by the new law. While in dollars, slighly more of the money promised to date funds transit projects such as the 16-mile Purple Line, a light rail planned to stretch between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, most of the projects funded will be on roads. Henson noted that in more urban areas, the projects tend to have higher price tags. The cost of transit creates a disparity between the priorities, Sen. Richard F. Colburn said. Colburn (R-Dist. 37) of Cambridge said that while the gas tax was intended to fund road and bridge projects, it now also subsidizes transit. Even with the inflation in the new law, Colburn said the state will struggle to fund road and bridge projects in the future. Despite voting against the gas tax increase, Colburn said his region still received funding for its priorities from the state, including $50 million for a new Dover Bridge on Md. 331 and $42 million to widen and “dualize” a portion of Md. 404, a popular route to reach Ocean City. “Can you equate that $100 million with what is going to go into the new Red Line or the Purple line? No,” he said. “We are getting our priorities funded, but they don’t cost as much, and that is part of the problem.”

About $1.1 billion has been announced for transit projects, with the bulk, or $680 million, going toward the Purple Line’s $2.2 billion price tag. The 15-mile Corridor Cities Transitway — planned as a bus rapid transit line between Clarksburg and the Shady Grove Metro Station — as well as Montgomery County’s Ride On Bus system, the Red Line and the MARC train. Between the Eastern Shore, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, about another $929 million will go to about 23

As new fiscal year nears, Cardin vows to end sequestration ‘I’m tired of seeing federal workers be made the scapegoat for every budget battle’ n

BY

KEVIN JAMES SHAY STAFF WRITER

Before several hundred employees of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin pledged Monday to do “everything in my power” to put an end to federal sequestration budget cuts that have hit federal agencies and contractors throughout Montgomery and Frederick counties. “Government has already been cut substantially in recent years,” Cardin said. “I’m tired of seeing federal workers be made the scapegoat for every budget battle.” While many agencies have avoided layoffs and furloughs of employees by delaying services or cutting grants, the effect of the across-the-board budget cuts has been devastating for those workers who have lost jobs, Cardin said at the NRC’s Rockville headquarters after a short meeting with employees. “It has been as bad as we thought it would be,” he said. The NRC saw a 5 percent budget cut for fiscal 2013, or $52 million, and avoided furloughs through delaying research and licenses, and cutting upgrades to its IT system. “About half our cuts are about evenly divided between delays in, and reduced support for, new reactor licensing and delays in long-term or discretionary research,” NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said. The agency is also delaying systemwide computer upgrades and slashing education grants and employee training. About 2,400 civilian employees at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda have taken 11 unpaid furlough days since early July, causing reductions in the number of operating rooms and other services at the military hospital, which treats wounded soldiers. But the furloughs are ending, and services are “back to normal operations,” according to Walter Reed’s website. The National Institutes of Health in Bethesda saw its 2013 budget cut about 5 percent, or $1.6 billion, from last year and is avoiding furloughs by awarding fewer research grants to companies and nonprofits. The National Institute of Standards and

Technology in Gaithersburg is also cutting grants, contracts, and maintenance and equipment procurements, as well as deferring hiring to avoid furloughs. Montgomery and Frederick counties have about 51,300 federal workers between them, 35 percent of the total federal employees in Maryland, according to state labor figures. While the number of workers declined by 300 in the two counties in the past year, it actually rose by almost 1,000 from two years ago. The start of fiscal 2014 is Oct. 1, and Cardin said he knows he has his work cut out for him on this matter. “We must replace sequestration with a realistic budget before facing even more dire cuts in the year ahead,” he said. After his meeting at the NRC, Cardin went to Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring to meet with medical leaders and partners from across Montgomery County and the region to discuss implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He said Maryland might be well ahead of the curve when it comes to implementing the act, but he has concerns that misinformation, unclear costs and a complex registration process could impact the state’s ability to sign up its uninsured. Medical leaders said residents are hearing misinformation about the ACA. Some even believe it has been repealed. Coupled with the state not yet releasing its application or publishing a breakdown of the plans and the rates that will be available, when enrollment opens Oct. 1, Maryland could face challenges signing up residents. Politics continues to embroil the law and has made it hard to get a clear, accurate message out to the public, Cardin said. He encouraged those gathered Monday to promote grassroots efforts to ensure that people know what the law actually requires, what is available to them, how they sign up for a plan and apply for any subsidies, as well as the cost and the benefits to the law. While Cardin said he is overall encouraged by what he heard Monday, he will be reaching out to the state to obtain an application and rates so that he and his staff can better understand what uninsured constituents will face come Oct. 1. Kate S. Alexander contributed to this report. kshay@gazette.net

1906753

1907549

Rush hour traffic on Shady Grove Road and Rt. 355 in Gaithersburg on a recent evening. road projects. Among those projects are the new $125 million Watkins Mill interchange on Interstate 270 in Gaithersburg and $100 million for an new interchange on Md. 201 (Indian Head Highway) in Oxon Hill. kalexander@gazette.net

PHOTOS BY DAN GROSS/THE GAZETTE

A Metro train crosses Md. 355 after departing the Grosvenor-Strathmore station in North Bethesda.

Potomacgaz 082813  

Potomac, Montgomery County, Maryland, Gazette

Potomacgaz 082813  

Potomac, Montgomery County, Maryland, Gazette

Advertisement