Will Stimulus Funds Trickle To Worcester?

BERLIN – Just one day after President Barack Obama officially inked the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or national stimulus bill on Monday, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley was already rolling out a list of transportation projects across the state earmarked for the first phase of funding, but it remains uncertain just how much and how far the windfall will trickle down to the Eastern Shore and Worcester County.

On Monday, Obama officially signed legislation putting into action his national economic stimulus package, setting in motion a mad scramble for the funds across the nation. O’Malley announced the next day the first wave of transportation projects that will be part of the Maryland’s comprehensive economic recovery program.  In the first phase, the federal recovery legislation will provide at least $610 million for transportation projects across the State.

“We are acting immediately to get transportation projects out the door so we can preserve jobs, protect families and improve the economy in every region of our state,” O’Malley said this week.  “The aggressive action we are taking to maximize the benefit of the federal dollars all about jobs, jobs, jobs.”

As part of a larger stimulus package for the state, Maryland is expected to see a $610 million transportation investment anticipated to create as many as 17,500 jobs. On Tuesday, the governor announced a first phase of Maryland’s transportation recovery program consisting of highway and transit projects worth around $365 million and nearly 9,000 jobs. From the beginning, federal officials asked local jurisdictions to present a list of “shovel ready” projects for when the funding became available, and the first-phase of projects announced by O’Malley appears to go beyond that directive.

“Months ago, I asked my staff to develop a plan to make sure that Maryland is not only shovel-ready, but rather was next-day ready,” said O’Malley this week. “This is the day after President Obama signed this legislation, and we are ready to go.”

While the money is starting to flow, it remains uncertain just how much is headed toward the Lower Shore and how fast it will get here. The first-phase plan introduced this week includes around $10.8 million for road resurfacing and another $5.9 million for road safety in the State Highway Administration’s District 1, which includes Worcester and Wicomico Counties, but does not include specifics about the plan.

Delegate James Mathias (D-38B) said yesterday there has been much talk around Annapolis about how to direct the funding with lawmakers naturally clamoring for money for their districts or pet projects. He said it was too early to speculate on what the first phase might mean for Worcester and the resort areas.

“Naturally, there’s been a lot of discussion about how this is going to shake out, but there are a lot of unknowns at this point,” he said. “There have been some estimates floated around, but they are just that – estimates. They seem to be changing every minute.”

As the federal stimulus package winnowed its way through the lengthy approval process, state, county and local jurisdictions were told to prepare a list of “shovel ready” projects for consideration. With the passage of the bill this week, it remains uncertain if and when funding for those projects might become available. Mathias said by all accounts it appears Maryland’s first-phase of federal stimulus funding will be spent on the very basics, with funding for larger projects expected in latter phases.

“The catch-phrase for this first phase is system preservation,” he said. “Taking care of the immediate needs of the roads with paving and repairs and the like. Beyond that, it’s too early to speculate any further.”