- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski seemed almost giddy over the prospect of a light-rail line connecting Charles County to the Washington Metro during a Tuesday meeting with the county commissioners.
Mikulski (D-Md.) stopped by to “touch base,” discuss the impact of federal “sequester” budget cuts and learn more about the county’s priorities, including the light-rail project, associated transit-oriented development in Waldorf and the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge.
Commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D) briefed Mikulski on the county’s plan, in coordination with Prince George’s County, to build an approximately 18-mile light-rail line from the Branch Avenue Metro station in Marlow Heights to White Plains, in hopes that it will spur an urban revival in Waldorf.
“Actually, this is very exciting,” the senator said.
However, Mikulski said, the project has a long time to wait in the queue of transportation projects before completion of the state’s “two big enchiladas” — the Baltimore Red Line and the Purple Line connecting Bethesda and New Carrolton.
In the meantime, the senator, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the county might be able to find funding for the project in the form of federal Community Development Block Grants, which can be used toward a variety of projects.
Commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) said the county hopes its delegation’s support of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) transportation bill during the 2013 legislation session will pay dividends.
Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) made his oft-repeated pitch for a new Nice Bridge, stating that is should be seen as a homeland security issue given that it is the only crossing of the Potomac River south of the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge in Oxon Hill.
“During any natural or other disaster in the national capital region, people suddenly look at the maps and say, ‘How can I avoid D.C.,’ and they look at [U.S.] 301,” Robinson said. “[U.S.] 301 is a four-lane highway on both sides of the river, but when you get to the bridge, it’s a [two]-lane bridge with no shoulder, and so something as simple as a flat tire will tie up traffic for miles.”
“That’s a good argument,” Mikulski said, adding later, “It should be viewed as America’s bridge, not a state bridge, not a county bridge.”
She also acknowledge the need for a new Gov. Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge linking Calvert and St. Mary’s counties.
The senator said that an Internet sales tax could generate an annual $170 million for transportation projects in Maryland.
Congress is scheduled to vote on whether to allow states to implement a sales tax on online transactions next week, she said. If it passes and Maryland implements the tax, Mikulski said she hopes the revenue would be earmarked for transportation.
Commissioner Debra M. Davis (D) briefed the senator on the county’s Vision 2020 anti-poverty initiative, which Davis has spearheaded.
Mikulski also suggested CDBG as a potential funding source for the homeless shelter Kelly said the county wants to open in Waldorf.
“You have very solid plans, and you obviously have the will,” Mikulski said. “You’re looking for some help in the wallet.”
The senator also said the county’s geography “should be an asset,” but seemingly hasn’t been.
“You’re next a really big county called Prince George’s. You’re next to a really big city called Washington, D.C. You’re next to a real big river called the Potomac, and you’re treated like you’re Wicomico [or Garrett],” she quipped.
“You are more than welcome to open up an office in our new Waldorf Urban Redevelopment Corridor,” Robinson said. “You seem like a great cheerleader for us.”
Mikulski was also pleased to hear about the business incubator coming to Waldorf, which she said seemed similar to the NASA-run incubator in Baltimore’s Canton neighborhood that helped fill the void left by the departure of a large canning company.
As for the looming federal budget cuts known as sequestration, the senator said steps have been taken to delay the impact until June or July.
Mikulski stated that “there will be ramifications,” particularly in education with cuts to Title I, Title II and special education funding, as well furloughs to government workers, including the thousands of civilian military personnel at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indian Head and the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary’s County.
“I’m so upset about this, because when you listen to the excellent work that they do, to protect our warfighters, to protect the homeland … we should be pinning medals on them instead of furlough slips,” she said.
Kelly pointed out that the county, with a newly expanded runway at Maryland Airport in Indian Head, is trying to work alongside St. Mary’s County and Pax River to secure a grant for the region to become a Federal Aviation Administration-designated testing site for nonmilitary applications of unmanned aerial vehicles.
“So what you’re telling me is that whatever helps St. Mary’s County,” Mikulski began.
“Helps us,” Kelly finished.