Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday that 11 Montgomery County transportation projects would be canceled if state lawmakers didn’t repeal a new law that requires transportation projects to be ranked before they receive state funding.
The county projects include the construction of the Watkins Mill Road interchange and other improvements to I-270, capacity improvements along the Capital Beltway. Dozens of other road projects around Maryland are also affected.
The law, Hogan said, “will wreak havoc” with how the state pays for its transportation projects. Of 73 projects in line for state assistance, the law will kill 66 of them, he asserted.
The law adds transparency to how transportation projects receive funding, according to Del. Kirill Reznik, one of the bill’s sponsors. The state must score projects on a scale from 0 to 100, and the governor can choose the criteria. Projects do not have to be scored equally. And the state’s transportation secretary has to write a letter why a project is being funded.
“For more than three decades, Maryland has had the same transportation system in place,” Hogan said. “It is both transparent and effective, and it has worked flawlessly for decades. There was no reason whatsoever to throw it out with a special-interest bill that effectively destroys our state transportation system. This was simply partisan politics at its absolute worst.”
Hogan spoke at a State House press conference, which was broadcast over Facebook.
Local lawmakers, however, disputed the governor’s characterization of the law, “Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016,” which Hogan referred to as the “road kill bill.”
“I don’t know if the governor is having a ‘fever dream,’ ” said Reznik, a Democrat who represents Montgomery Village. “He’s trying to scare people into thinking we did something we didn’t do.”
In the 2016 session, the legislation passed the House of Delegates, 83-51, and the Senate, 28-17, according to the General Assembly website. Hogan vetoed the bill, but lawmakers overturned the veto—88-52 in the House and 29-17 in the Senate.
Virginia awards funds for transportation projects in a similar manner, Reznik said. The Maryland law was drafted to give the state transportation department more flexibility, he said.
“Providing transparency in how these decisions are made does not affect the viability, the implementation or the construction of any single transportation project,” he said. “I am perplexed why they are fighting us on this. It literally makes no sense.”
Hogan spokesman Douglass Mayer disputed the need for the law, because the state has had the same system for funding transportation projects for 34 years.
“This governor gets elected, and the process is broken, really?” Mayer said. “This has everything to do with politics.”
Del. Eric Luedtke called the law advisory, not forcing the governor to do anything other than to explain why he is supporting projects.
But Mayer said the provisions of the law aren’t advisory, and the parts that are advisory, won’t hold up in a court challenge.
“When the governor says it’s killing road projects, he’s lying,” Luedtke said. Hogan can go to jurisdictions like Frederick and Baltimore counties and say that Democrats are killing road projects, which the governor can use to help his re-election effort, he said.
“This kind of stuff drives me crazy because of all his talk of bipartisanship, this seems to be a crassly political move to create divisions in regions of the state,” said Del. David Moon, a Takoma Park Democrat, who was another co-sponsor.
“Why the governor has decided to treat this bill as a hostile attack on important transportation projects around the state is beyond me and a complete perversion. If the governor has suggested reforms to improve the law, he should bring those forward instead of engaging in these political stunts,” said Del. Marc Korman, a Bethesda Democrat.
During the press conference, Hogan said the law was “written by special interests, and it was written by a lobbyist. And it was submitted to help a couple of developers in Montgomery County with transit projects.”
Mayer said Hogan’s reference to the lobbyist was Rich Hall, the planning department secretary under former Gov. Martin O’Malley, who worked with 1,000 Friends of Maryland, an environmental group based in Baltimore that favors transit and smart growth, to write the legislation.
Among the county projects that Hogan said would be affected by the legislation are:
—MD 28/MD 198 – Corridor safety, capacity, and operations improvements between MD 97 and I-95;
—MD 355 – Grade-separated crossing over CSXT railroad and interchange at Parklawn Drive in Rockville;
—MD 117 – Intersection capacity from I-270 to Metropolitan Grove Road (Phases two and three)
—MD 185 – Jones Bridge Road in Bethesda;
—US 29 – Stewart Lane and Tech, Greencastle and Blackburn roads;
—US 29 – Interchange at Musgrove and Fairland roads;
—MD 124 – Reconstruct from Midcounty Highway to south of Airpark Road (Phases two and three);
—MD 97 – Safety and accessibility in Montgomery Hills, between MD 192 and MD 390; and
—MD 97 – Interchange at MD 28.
With reporting by Andrew Metcalf