Maryland’s budget may hold enough to repay highway funds
This year, Maryland might begin repaying the $300 million borrowed from the state’s Transportation Trust Fund last year. Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was expected to introduce a budget plan on Jan. 22 and say he would use spending cuts and one-time fixes to close a $786 million budget gap, the Washington Times reported.
The plan to start paying back the road construction and maintenance money used to keep the state afloat last year was a surprise. “There will be some money in to start paying it back, unless something happens,” said Maryland House Minority Leader George C. Edwards, a western Maryland Republican.
To balance the budget, Gov. Ehrlich plans to propose spending cuts, increase user fees on Maryland residents, possibly take $160 million from a reserve fund of unclaimed county income-tax rebates and increase efforts to collect back taxes from corporations.
The additional money collected would reportedly be divided between the state’s transportation fund and the general fund.
Virginia may revive road work; VDOT awards contracts
Construction of a fourth lane on I-95 through northern Virginia could get another chance at life if the Virginia General Assembly passes a budget proposed by Gov. Mark Warner. A handful of other highway construction projects also could be revived under the plan, which would provide an additional $1.3 billion over the next six years and $392 million during the next two-year budget cycle.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board had removed 166 projects from its Six-Year Program after Warner ordered a more realistic assessment.
“With the help of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, we made the Six-Year Program a document grounded in reality instead of a wish list of projects,” Warner said. “Working with the General Assembly, we passed new laws requiring sound business practices for managing transportation projects. Now we have a budget plan that allows us to turn the corner on transportation funding.”
Warner said it was not necessary to raise the state’s gasoline tax. He would collect the money from a tax on insurance premiums.
Warner attributed the better health of the transportation fund to the improved health of the state’s general fund.
“I can assure you there are some in the General Assembly who are anxious to cut the $392 million in new transportation funding in my two-year budget,” he said. “We do not improve transportation by proposing a gasoline tax dedicated to transportation funding, but leave our general fund in such a precarious position that the Transportation Trust Fund remains a ripe target for future raids. “Many of these same legislators voted to use the insurance premiums for transportation in 2000, made that the law in Virginia, and now may criticize a plan to follow the law.”
In addition to adding a fourth lane on I-95, the money could be used to accelerate completion of I-64 in Hampton Roads. The money could be used to make several improvements along the Rte. 58 corridor and to accelerate improvements to all 325 miles of the I-81 corridor. There also are numerous small projects and bridge repairs and replacements that could benefit from the increased funding.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board awarded $42 million worth of highway construction contracts in mid-January. Largest among the contracts was an $18 million job to replace the north and southbound I-81 bridges over the Maury River in Rockbridge County. Two lanes of traffic will be maintained in both directions during the work. Any lane closures necessary will be allowed only at night. A sophisticated traffic management system will help move traffic through the construction zone.
VDOT completed 73% of its construction contracts and 82% of its maintenance projects within budget from July through December 2003, according to the agency’s latest report card.
While the quarterly report shows progress with staying within budget, it also shows that VDOT’s top challenge continues to be meeting deadlines. In the second fiscal quarter, ending December 2003, 29% of construction contracts and 38% of maintenance projects were completed on time. In the quarterly reports, VDOT defines “on time” in the narrowest sense: original contract completion date, with no exceptions.
The quarterly report is a result of Warner’s initiatives to make government business transparent to the public.
AGC calls reauthorization cure for jobless recovery
The Associated General Contractors of America’s chief executive officer, Stephen E. Sandherr, urged Congress to pass a six-year highway reauthorization bill in his mid-January address to the Road Gang in conjunction with the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting and luncheon.
“While the economy continues to show signs of improvement, many economists refer to it as a jobless recovery,” Sandherr said. “We have the solution to this predicament. There is no legislative initiative currently before Congress that would have a more immediate and sustaining impact on creating jobs than a multiyear reauthorization of the transportation bill.”
Federal aid to highways produces about 47,500 jobs created for every billion dollars spent, according to AGC. Failure to enact a comprehensive six-year reauthorization could result in the loss of 90,000 jobs.
“We must all take advantage of this momentum, seize the opportunity and commit our combined energies to getting the job done over the next 60 to 90 days,” concluded Sandherr.
The extension of TEA-21 is scheduled to expire on Feb. 29.
500th Shuttle Buggy
Roadtec Inc., Chattanooga, Tenn., reached a milestone recently when the company’s 500th Shuttle Buggy rolled off the assembly line. The Shuttle Buggy material transfer vehicle is a moveable surge bin that takes hot-mix asphalt from a haul truck, remixes it to prevent temperature and aggregate segregation and conveys it into the paver hopper. The Shuttle Buggy allows the paver to run nonstop for a smoother road surface.
Michigan governor mandates context-sensitive design
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm has signed an executive directive ordering the Michigan DOT to fully implement context-sensitive design for all projects throughout the agency, according to the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials.
“Context-sensitive design means a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach involving stakeholders for the development of a transportation facility that fits its physical setting and preserves scenic, aesthetic, historic and environmental resources while maintaining safety and mobility,” Granholm wrote. She added that such design can enhance the quality of transportation projects and the vitality of communities, without undue burden or cost.
The Michigan DOT held a transportation conference in December focusing on context-sensitive design.
In related news, The Road Information Program (TRIP) recently found that 33% of Michigan’s urban highways were congested in 2002. In other words, they were carrying traffic volumes that resulted in significant rush-hour delays.
Michigan has a $16 billion backlog of highway and bridge work, according to TRIP.
The state needs to invest an additional $700 million a year over the next 20 years to improve road and bridge conditions, expand key routes to relieve traffic congestion and improve critical highway links to support economic growth.
Protection Tip of the Month
Before donning safety glasses or goggles, look for the “Z87+” mark engraved on the lens or temple of the product. This mark will assure that your eye protection meets the rigorous ANSI standard for occupational, personal eye and face protection devices required for road and bridge construction. The Z87 standard, which was updated in 2003, also addresses NIOSH-approved respirators for protection from impact hazards and eye irritants and welding respirators for impact and optical radiation protection. Both the updated Z87 standard and a new Eye and Face Protection Use and Selection Guide are available from the International Safety Equipment Association; visit www.safetyequipment.org.