ANNAPOLIS – State legislators start their work in mid-January, and powerful stakeholders in Maryland are signaling that they give the same priority to road improvements throughout Maryland, but offer different ways to approach the issue. The Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) has made its top legislative priority reinvestment in local bridges, roads and other infrastructure, […]
ANNAPOLIS – State legislators start their work in mid-January, and powerful stakeholders in Maryland are signaling that they give the same priority to road improvements throughout Maryland, but offer different ways to approach the issue.
The Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) has made its top legislative priority reinvestment in local bridges, roads and other infrastructure, and hopes the state will do that by increasing the local governments’ share of state highway user revenues. Meanwhile, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has announced his number one priority this General Assembly session will be the repeal of last year’s HB1103, which instituted a formula for ranking and funding road projects. Previously, the governor was able to make those decisions himself, based on county-devised priorities lists.
Hogan’s speech announcing the “Kill the Road Kill Bill” was held Dec. 14. The day before, MACo led a social media campaign called “LIFT4MD” to advocate for its cause. Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, III and several county council members took part.
“ICYMI (In case you missed it): local share of transportation revenues cut nearly $2 billion since 2010. Give local roads a #LIFT4MD in 2017,” Baker’s official Twitter account tweeted Dec. 13.
County Councilwoman Mary Lehman tweeted, “#LIFT4MD Pr. George’s desperately needs local infrastructure funding! We’re holding stuff together w/paper clips & gum!”
In contrast to this support for MACo’s initiative, Baker, as well as the entire Prince George’s County General Assembly delegation except Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-26), supported HB1103 even though, Hogan said at his press conference, it “will devastate the county” due to the cancellation of many of the county’s priority road projects.
“These are the most desperately-needed transportation projects in the state. They are overwhelmingly supported by every single local government and more importantly by the overwhelming majority of Marylanders,” Hogan said. “Because of an ill-informed, wildly misguided and totally irresponsible veto override, this catastrophic road kill bill is now law.”
Hogan said only seven of the 73 highest-priority projects in the state would be funded under the formula introduced in HB1103. Projects in Prince George’s County that would not be able to move forward include work on the intersection of 202 and Brightseat Road in Landover, capacity improvements to US 50 between the D.C. border and MD 704 in Glenarden, widening US 301 north of Mount Oak Road in Bowie, and upgrades to MD 4/Suitland Parkway in the southern part of the county, according to Hogan’s office.
“Only four counties in the entire state would be able to receive any funding whatsoever, but even those counties lose most of their top-priority projects,” Hogan said. “This was simply partisan politics at its absolute worst. The consequences of this law are absolutely disastrous for this state.”
MACo opposed the bill when it was before the General Assembly last year, and in August submitted a letter to the state department of transportation offering support for discussions on how to help counties comply with new requirements put on them because of the law. That letter did, however, note that MACo was “pleased with language preserving that process (of county priority-setting), added to the bill prior to its passage.” The Baltimore Sun’s editorial staff also said Hogan’s remarks about the bill were misleading.
MACo’s LIFT4MD campaign focuses on making sure local road projects move forward in a different way: by implementing a gradual return to the 30 percent of highway user revenues that had gone to county governments for road repairs and improvements prior to cuts during the Great Recession.
“It may have been necessary then, but at this point in time it’s really hurting local roads. We’re just asking for our fair share,” said Barbara Zektick, MACo associate director. “We’re really hoping for bipartisan support and really hoping that this is the year it gets done.”
She said 23 out of the state’s 24 counties are currently receiving just 1.4 percent of the highway user revenues, while at the same time those 23 counties maintain a majority (69 percent) of the roads in the state.
The Dec. 13 Twitter storm was designed to raise awareness of the issue and their solution, according to Zektick.
“The initiative was really to get local folks to talk about how this is a big need, and utilize that momentum,” she said.
The LIFT4MD (which is an acronym for Local Infrastructure Fast Track) ask also includes other new state funding for local infrastructure needs and “an objective inventory of who’s doing what and how they’re paying for it” when it comes to infrastructure projects in Maryland, Zektick said.
The General Assembly session begins Jan. 11. During the ensuing three months, the body will have a chance to accept either, or both, of these proposals or come up with solutions of their own.