Momentum is building for Maryland’s legislature to repeal and replace a transportation-funding law that passed this year despite a veto from Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and became a major bone of contention between the first-term Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
The legislation required Maryland’s Department of Transportation to create a scoring system to determine which projects should get priority for state funds.
Critics say the metrics used in the scoring favor transit proposals and projects in urban areas over those in more rural parts of the state.
On Friday, members of the legislative committee in charge of reviewing the ranking system discussed whether Maryland should change its model to resemble one used in Virginia, which divides the state into regions where transportation needs are scored differently.
Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg (D-Baltimore), who co-chairs the panel, asked transportation officials to determine whether Maryland could adopt a similar model under the existing law or whether the change would require new legislation. He said “there appears to be a consensus that the Virginia law is a model worth considering.”
State Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn suggested that the legislature should focus on repealing the law, which Hogan encouraged this summer at the Maryland Association of Counties’ annual conference. There, many local officials complained that their projects would score poorly under the new system.
“We don’t end with repeal,” Rosenberg said. “The goal of this group is to see how the Virginia statute could be enacted here with appropriate modifications for Maryland’s situation.”
The committee is not required to take action on the scoring system, but it has until Dec. 12 to recommend changes. Rosenberg asked the department to provide its answers by Dec. 8.
Rahn has said that every local official he met with during back-to-back meetings at the conference expressed concerns about the scoring system and how it might interfere with local input.
“The law that we are working with does not result in all projects having an opportunity based on local input and cost of the projects,” he said Friday. “This is a very flawed law, and we are implementing it to the best of our ability.”
Several Democrats on the committee said the transportation department misinterpreted the law and created guidelines that were too restrictive.
Rahn said the guidelines closely follow the legislation.
Supporters of the legislation contend that it adds transparency to the decision-making process. Also, local officials can still make their priorities known to MDOT through the department’s usual process of meeting each year with transportation officials from each jurisdiction.
Advocates have also noted that the administration could choose to fund lower-scoring projects over higher-scoring ones as long as MDOT provides an explanation.
Republican lawmakers opposed the legislation and called it retaliation for Hogan’s decision last year to cancel the long-planned Red Line light-rail project in Baltimore, which the governor said did not make fiscal sense.
Under the law, the ranking system applies only to projects that are above $5 million. Scoring is based on nine factors ranging from environmental stewardship and cost-effectiveness to how the projects affect community vitality and equitable access to transportation.