Maryland Lawmakers Propose Transportation Measures

Leaders of the Democratic-led legislature discussed several measures they contend will better steer money to places where smothering traffic congestion has become an economic development concern.

📅   Mon March 07, 2016 - Northeast Edition
Brian Witte - Associated Press


Leaders of the Democratic-led legislature discussed several measures they contend will better steer money to places where smothering traffic congestion has become an economic development concern.
Leaders of the Democratic-led legislature discussed several measures they contend will better steer money to places where smothering traffic congestion has become an economic development concern.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) Maryland lawmakers proposed measures that they say will increase transparency in how state transportation money is spent, but a spokesman for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan questioned where their calls for accountability were when the preceding administration shifted hundreds of millions of dollars away from transportation for years to balance the budget.

Leaders of the Democratic-led legislature discussed several measures they contend will better steer money to places where smothering traffic congestion has become an economic development concern. Democrats contend they passed the state's first gas tax hike in two decades in 2013 — over the objections of Republicans — to pay for badly needed infrastructure upgrades, only to have the Republican governor pull the plug on a light rail plan called the Red Line in Baltimore. Hogan also shifted greater costs for another rail plan in the Washington suburbs known as the Purple Line to local governments.

In June, two months after lawmakers adjourned from their 90-day session, Hogan announced his decisions on the two light rail proposals — and that he would spend nearly $2 billion on roads and bridges throughout the state.

“After session we found out, and really what has taken place as far as I'm concerned is: Where the job creation needs to take place, where people need to get back and forth to the workplace, where the growth of the state is, he did not invest that money,” House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said at a news conference Tuesday.

Hogan campaigned against the transportation funding transfers his predecessor, then-Gov. Martin O'Malley, used to fill budget holes during the recession. Hogan also campaigned against toll hikes, and he announced toll reductions in May. That decision further angered Democrats, who say the money is needed for infrastructure.

Matt Clark, Hogan's spokesman, said the governor has worked with local officials throughout Maryland to address critical infrastructure needs.

“Today's thinly veiled power grab is a reckless attempt by legislators to weaken the role of county executives and other local authorities in order to drown the state's crucial investments in roads, bridges and transit projects into the bilge of Annapolis politics and lobbying,” Clark said.

Here's a look at what lawmakers are proposing:

• Priority Planning — A new process would be put in place to screen and rank the priority transportation projects based on their anticipated benefits, such as reducing congestion and increasing economic development.

• Oversight Board — A planning board of transit riders and citizens would be formed to provide a forum for the public to be represented and heard by state transit officials.

• Nice Bridge — Legislation would require the Maryland Transportation Authority to take the needed steps to begin construction soon on a replacement for the 75-year-old Harry W. Nice Bridge in southern Maryland.

• Tax Credit — A measure would double the commuter benefits tax credit from $50 a month to $100 and reduce carpool eligibility from eight riders to six riders to encourage more carpooling.