By DAN LAMOTHE, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON (Sept. 13, 2007)—The Senate passed a $106 billion housing and transportation bill Wednesday, setting aside $21 million for Maryland projects related to the planned expansion of military installations.
The bill, passed 88-7, also includes $81.4 million for the state's bridge replacement and rehabilitation costs, $23 million of which came through a $1 billion amendment for bridge reconstruction funds nationwide prompted by the collapse of a Minnesota bridge in August. A similar bill passed in the House in July, 242-110.
It's the second time in a week that Maryland won significant funding for anticipated expenses from military expansion. On Sept. 6, the Senate approved $963 million for Maryland military construction and affairs, including $698.6 million for projects related to the federal Base Realignment and Closure process.
Maryland's senators, Democrats Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, both voted for the housing and transportation bill. They touted the funding for federal base realignment that will lead to thousands of new jobs at installations in Harford, Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties.
"More money for Maryland highways and public transit systems means safer and faster commutes to work," Mikulski said in a prepared statement. "This funding will help BRAC-ready our transportation systems to keep Marylanders on the move."
The bill "recognizes the critical transportation challenges" facing Maryland as it readies for the expansion and resulting new jobs and workers, Cardin said.
The MARC Commuter Rail System, which federal and state officials have called a key transportation component in the BRAC process, will receive $13 million.
Jack Cahalan, Maryland Department of Transportation spokesman, said allocation of the money has not been determined, but said attainment of the funding is an important step in planning for the future.
"We're actively and aggressively assessing ways to deliver passengers to Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade," he said.
The bill also includes:
-- $3 million to improve access roads leading to the gates of Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County, which is expected to add about 9,500 jobs by 2011;
-- $3 million to improve access to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda by making adjustments to Route 355;
-- $1 million for studies for the Central Maryland Transit Center at Fort Meade, a planned 150-bus facility in western Anne Arundel County;
-- $1 million for the Bi-County Transit Center in Langley Park to serve as an off-street bus transfer station for residents of Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
Bob Leib, special assistant to the Anne Arundel County executive, said studies on the future transit center at Fort Meade will begin later this year. No price tag on the project has been disclosed, but it will be funded with a combination of federal, state and local money, he said.
"We're hoping that doing this, we'll be able to connect the residential, retail, employment and transportation centers in the area," Leib said.
The funding is not yet assured. The bill must go before a conference committee, where differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill will be reconciled. President Bush has threatened a veto, but both chambers passed the original measures by enough votes to surmount a presidential veto.