By BOBBY MCMAHON
ABERDEEN (Dec. 12, 2009) - Facing a massive shortfall in funding and looming gridlock, Gov. Martin O'Malley voiced strong support Friday for more federal dollars toward Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) transportation projects in the state.
At a press conference announcing that a highway project near Aberdeen Proving Ground was moving toward construction, O'Malley was confident that the shortfall in funding would be met. He emphasized that the state would work closely with Congress to make it happen.
"We plan to meet the shortfall as we have every challenge in the history of our nation—by doing it together," O'Malley said.
According to a September study by the Government Accountability Office, Maryland will need to spend an additional $315 million to $470 million (on top of $95 million already allocated) on necessary transportation projects around Bethesda National Naval Medical Center, Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade.
These three sites, as well as other military installations in the state, are slated to gain roughly 27,000 jobs by September 2011. Experts and state officials have expressed concern that the influx of people will result in gridlock if necessary highway improvements are not made.
During his remarks, O'Malley made it clear the state would need federal assistance to address potential traffic problems. For example, roughly 80 percent of the allocated money for the project announced Friday, $42.6 million to improve the interchange at U.S. 40 and Maryland Route 715, was from the federal government.
Federal funding for other sites is also in the pipeline. In a statement Wednesday, Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin announced that roughly $12.4 million in highway projects for four military bases in the state moved one step closer to being approved by Congress and signed off on by President Obama.
But Andy Scott, the Maryland Department of Transportation official who coordinates BRAC activities, said today's announcement about the project in Aberdeen included only about $10 million in new funding not accounted for in the GAO study. He said the state is taking an incremental approach to alleviating gridlock, making small improvements to intersections and roads as money comes in.
"Every little bit of money we get can be immediately applied to projects around these instillations," Scott said.
Along with dollars from Congress, Scott said one source of potential funds could come from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program, which offers grants to state and local governments for transportation projects through the federal stimulus package.
The state has submitted five grant proposals under the TIGER program, including a request for $58 million to improve intersections around three of the installations. But officials have said states and localities nationwide have submitted $56 billion in grant applications for only $1.5 billion in available funding, making potential grant funding highly competitive. An announcement of grant winners is expected in early 2010.
Beyond this and other federal sources of funding, O'Malley stressed the need for new money from Washington. He said he would continue to work with Maryland's congressional delegation to fund necessary infrastructure projects.
"We're hopeful when Congress comes back after the holiday recess that they will take up infrastructure bills, jobs bills that will get some much needed funds to Maryland for further BRAC improvements," O'Malley said.
At the press conference, bitter cold and a biting wind forced the small gathering to huddle together, and remarks from the elected officials were noticeably short.
Joking about the cold, O'Malley said, "I've reduced my 44 pages (of remarks) to just one."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.