This commentary was written by Del. Bob Flanagan, who served as Maryland’s transportation secretary in the Ehrlich administration 2003-2007. Comments can be posted at the bottom of the story.
By Delegate Bob Flanagan
Maryland’s transportation needs are inevitably greater than the funds that are available to pay for them. Making the best use of available funds is a worthy goal.
However, Democratic leaders in Maryland are cynically taking advantage of public support for good government by pushing legislation titled the ‘Maryland Open Transportation Investment Act of 2016,’ (SB 908/HB 1013), which has a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday.
This bill has been compared to successful legislation enacted in 2014 by the Commonwealth of Virginia. However, the confrontational and partisan approach being taken by Democratic leaders in Maryland is dangerous and drastically different.
Difference with Virginia legislation
Virginia’s legislation, HB 2 was passed by the Republican led legislature in Virginia unanimously and signed by Democratic Governor Terry McAulliffe. This bill directed that a prioritization process be developed and implemented to guide the use of the Commonwealth’s transportation funds.
The legislation provided that the prioritization process would be based upon objective and quantifiable analysis that considers at a minimum five factors relative to the cost of each project or strategy. These factors were: congestion mitigation, economic development, accessibility, safety and environmental quality. It authorized that the weight of each factor would vary from region to region based on each area’s unique needs.
Most importantly, the Virginia legislature did not undertake what is essentially an executive function of developing a complex system for scoring projects. This job was rightfully assigned to the Commonwealth Transportation Board and they were granted over a year to perfect the system.
The timeline allowed the Board to solicit input from localities, metropolitan planning organizations, transit authorities and others. Public meetings were conducted in each of the nine transportation districts. A Governor’s Transportation Conference was used to inform the public and a survey was distributed. Many additional outreach sessions were held in each district. Public participation was key.
Haphazard scoring system hatched in a few weeks
In contrast, the Maryland Open Transportation Investment Act was thrown together by the same Democratic leaders who were recently diagnosed by the Washington Post as suffering from ‘Hogan Derangement Syndrome.’ Their haphazard scoring system was hatched in just a few weeks with no discernable public input.
This bill is certain to produce many losers. All of Maryland’s rural and most of its suburban counties will be shortchanged. Our roads will suffer in favor of mass transit.
No comprehensive consideration of cost effectiveness is required, no clear reference to congestion relief can be found, and minimal weight is assigned to projects that reduce deaths and serious injuries.
Comparing Maryland’s current system
Any changes in Maryland’s selection process needs to be compared with our current system. In accordance with Maryland law, the secretary of transportation annually holds a public hearing in each of the state’s 24 jurisdictions.
As secretary under Gov. Ehrlich, I was painfully aware that our transportation needs exceeded our state’s available funds. Each year, the plan that we proposed was the product of dedicated career transportation professionals. We funded highways across the state; improved transit in Baltimore and for the first time, committed a predictable source of capital funds for WMATA, the Washington area’s Metro and bus system.
Our program was robust and balanced throughout the entire state and across all transportation modes.
Maryland’s system for selecting transportation projects has been in place since the 1970s. During my tenure as secretary from 2003 to 2007, the system worked well with no appreciable controversy. So we must ask, why now?
Why do this now?
Governor Hogan’s victorious 2014 campaign breathed new life into a concept known as One Maryland. One Maryland is a guiding principle that resources should be equitably distributed to all regions of the state.
The Purple Line is moving forward and his decision to reject the Baltimore Red Line did not come as a surprise. The governor’s transformative plan in the Baltimore region to improve bus transit is receiving high marks.
Reversing the results of the last gubernatorial election is a poor justification for discarding Maryland’s system for selecting transportation projects. Maryland Democrats in the House and Senate need to work with Governor Hogan, instead of attempting to strip away his executive powers.
HB 2 worked for the Commonwealth of Virginia because it was a bipartisan and inclusive effort. The lesson from Virginia is that divided government can accomplish great things when we all work together.
Bob Flanagan now represents District 9B in Howard County, part of an area he represented in the legislature before he was appointed transportation secretary in 2003.