Cumberland Times-News

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October 12, 2012

Scarcity of money moves project into slow lane

Pennsylvania’s indifference also raises concerns of a dead end for North-South highway

CUMBERLAND — Lack of federal and state funding, along with lack of interest from the state of Pennsylvania, has slowed movement forward on the long-planned and long-delayed North-South highway.

There is no funding allocated for the second tier of the study and no money at all allocated after 2013 by Maryland for the project at this time. That didn’t sit well with supporters of the project or local officials concerned about the uncertainty for landowners and businesses in the area who attended a Thursday meeting with the Allegany County commissioners.

“This thing is taking way too long,” said Dave Moe, coordinator for the North/South Appalachian Highway Coalition. “We have done whatever has been asked of us,” Moe said. “It looks like the cost estimates are extremely high to squash the project,” Moe said, citing a $9 million environmental impact statement.

“We want this state to push forward with our part of this road,” said Sen. George Edwards, who was present at the meeting along with Delegate Kevin Kelly.

Funding is an issue for all roads projects, officials said.

“We know this is a crucial economic development tool for the region,” said acting Secretary Darrell Mobley of the Maryland Department of Transportation. Mobley said the state is committed to the project.

The federal government provides 18 percent of the state’s highway funding, said Mobley. And “that is not the most stable of funding sources.” Current federal funding will “allow us to remain flat ... it only allows us to continue projects already under way,” Mobley said.

Edwards said putting a stop to raiding the state’s transportation fund for other purposes would be a good start to having more money available. “We need to look at a mass transit tax,” Edwards said. Edwards said mass transit should be paid for primarily by the regions of the state where there is a heavy use and investment in mass transit.

Edwards said Delegate LeRoy Myers Jr. had a conflict with another meeting and Delegate Wendell Beitzel was out of town.

The highway project is estimated to provide 30,000 permanent and construction-related jobs in the region. The concept began in 1998 and a feasibility study concluded in 2001. The proposed road would run from Interstate 68 near Cumberland south nearly parallel to existing U.S. Route 220 to Corridor H in Grant County, W.Va., and north into Pennsylvania from U.S. Route 219 up to the turnpike.

State officials said the highway is a low priority for Pennsylvania. If the states can’t agree on a project, it’s difficult to obtain federal funding, officials said.

West Virginia and Maryland are working closely together on the project, with West Virginia taking the lead in performing the study.

The funding issues also affect other roads projects in the area and around the state, Maryland Department of Transportation officials told local legislators, commissioners and members of the public at the annual transportation meeting for Allegany County.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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