Feds concerned with ICC funding changes
March 1, 2005
Steven T. Dennis
Staff Writer

Transportation chief warns of delays, takes shot at Duncan

ANNAPOLIS -- The Federal Highway Administration is taking a dim view of proposals from legislative staffers to change the funding formula for the Intercounty Connector highway.

Nelson J. Castellanos, division administrator for the FHWA, said he has "concerns" about the proposals by legislative staffers to rely on alternative funding mechanisms in a Feb. 15 letter to Robert L. Flanagan, Maryland's transportation secretary.

"Financial plans that are dependent on potential funds such as the ones described in the Department of Legislative Services' budget overview are not acceptable unless the plan clearly identifies and commits other resources," Castellanos wrote.

"We need to have Federal Highway Administration approval this summer, and what this letter makes clear is that any last-minute effort to concoct a new funding plan creates substantial risk," Flanagan said Tuesday.

Flanagan has been fighting legislative attempts to hamstring the administration's plan to borrow $1 billion for the $2.4 billion highway by mortgaging future federal aid. Flanagan has warned that any changes to the funding formula, which has been approved by federal highway officials, could delay the 18-mile Gaithersburg-to-Laurel project.

Among the proposals that the legislative analysts have proposed are floating other types of debt that do not borrow against future federal funds and increasing the level of cash put into the project.

Critics of the borrowing plan, including Del. Peter V.R. Franchot, chairman of the House Transportation and Environment subcommittee, have argued that the ICC should be paid for now rather than forcing future lawmakers to pay the bills.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), meanwhile, refused to back the governor's funding plan, saying it is up to state lawmakers to decide the best way to pay for the highway.

"I ask that you move quickly to identify a viable and responsible financing method so that this critical road can be built without any further delay," Duncan said in a statement.

Duncan and Franchot (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park were criticized by Flanagan last week.

"The Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce has taken the position that if you're not in favor of [bills removing the restriction], you're not in favor of the ICC," Flanagan said. "Right now, the county executive is not for or against the bills. That leaves Doug Duncan in a position where his lack of support for those bills is going to be generally understood as a lack of support for the ICC.

"That is deeply disappointing, and I hope he quickly recognizes how important it is that he express his unequivocal support for those bills," Flanagan said.

Duncan shot back at Flanagan in an interview, saying that the Ehrlich administration is a Johnny-come-lately on the ICC and that supporters of the road should stick together.

"I've been pushing for the ICC before [Flanagan] even knew what the ICC was," Duncan said. "I don't see any good in attacking or ignoring supporters of the road, which is what they have done since taking office."

ICC advocate Richard N. Parsons, Montgomery Chamber of Commerce president and Duncan's former campaign manager, said he would "love to have the support of Duncan as well."

"I think it's a bit of a stretch to say that because he's not taking a position on a state bill that he's not supporting the project," he added.

Parsons noted that Duncan supports another bill that would remove a restriction on the Maryland Transportation Authority's ability to pay for projects, also a key to the governor's ICC plan.

"Our problem really is with Delegate Franchot and with the legislature," Parsons said. "I don't really see where attacking the county executive will help get that done."