That interchange project, now in design, is part of an ongoing push by Maryland officials to improve links between I-270 and Interstate 70 and relieve massive backups on the highway and along Buckeystown Pike, Wright said.
“He was being an advocate for what was presented to him as the highest priority,” Wright said. “Coincidentally, this was around two miles from his farm.”
Private business, public money
Some lawmakers pursued earmarks near properties that they or their family members were preparing for commercial development.
In the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D) sought an earmark in 2008 to widen a 1.5-mile stretch of road next to property his family was developing.
After taking office in 1997, Hinojosa remained as a one-fifth stock owner and consultant to his family’s longtime food processing plant, H&H Foods, in Mercedes. The lawmaker also co-owned, through a separate family partnership with three brothers, 3.7 acres of vacant land between the plant and Mile 1 East along U.S. 83.
In December 2006, his business, Hinojosa Enterprises, asked the city of Mercedes for permission to subdivide the property into three lots. In 2007, officials in the town of 15,000 asked Hinojosa to secure congressional funding to widen that stretch of Mile 1 East, a two-lane road that city officials said had grown clogged with traffic to a nearby outlet mall.
In March 2008, Hinojosa formally requested that Congress earmark funds to widen the road, certifying that neither he nor his wife had “any financial interest in this project.”
By that fall, the city approved Hinojosa Enterprises’s application to subdivide, and the family partnership sold the corner lot on Mile 1 East to a convenience store developer. In early 2009, Congress approved Hinojosa’s earmark request, giving the city $665,000 for the road. The money will pay for initial engineering and design work on the road project, which is expected to cost up to $3 million and require local funding to complete.
“This road expansion project will be a definite improvement to the flow of traffic,” Hinojosa said in a news release. He did not mention his personal business interests nearby.
The food company, located about 600 feet from Mile 1 East, closed in 2010 after a series of setbacks that pushed the firm into bankruptcy. That failure forced the lawmaker to also file for bankruptcy because he had guaranteed a company loan and was held liable for millions.
In an interview, Hinojosa said he saw no conflict in securing an earmark for work next to his property or the plant, which is now owned by a bank.