I bet you thought I was going to write about Donald Trump – but not this time.
Instead, I’m looking to point something out. You know those highway projects we never could seem to get done around here? Things like replacing the old Dover Bridge between Talbot and Caroline counties, widening the remaining seven miles or so of U.S. 113 that is still a two-lane road, or repairing the bridges that were first built with the U.S. 13 bypass decades ago? I wasn’t crazy about increasing the gasoline tax (and still believe the sales tax component should be eliminated, as well as the automatic indexing to inflation) but at least this administration is using that money as it was intended, to improve and maintain roads and bridges. (With the exception of the Purple Line, of course.)
Millions of dollars are being spread across Maryland to fix and enhance the transportation needs of residents who don’t have a handy bus line and don’t live a stone’s throw from the Metro stop. So leave it to those who are close to bus lines and Metro stops to make a bid to game the system their way with this legislative proposal currently in committee.
In a nutshell, the Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016 (MOTIDA) creates a scoring system that critics charge gives too much weight to projects in urban areas with mass transit. The point scale has a total of 800 points, and it’s subdivided into eight parts: safety and security, system preservation, quality of service, environmental stewardship, community vitality, economic prosperity, equitable access to transportation, and cost effectiveness/return on investment. The latter two are new; the first six are already addressed to some degree with existing transportation plans.
MOTIDA further breaks this point scale down, and what I will do is list the items given in order of their point rank. To me it’s very telling about the priorities of the sponsors, who seem to have gulped down the so-called “smart growth” Kool-Aid:
50 points apiece:
- reduction in fatalities among all affected modes of transportation
- expected change in cumulative job accessibility (based on a 45-minute commute – 60 minutes for public transit)
- enhancements of access to “critical intermodal locations”
- enhancements vs. per capita costs
40 points apiece:
- increases lifespan of affected facility
- advances state environmental goals
- increases cumulative job accessibility
- increases job accessibility for the “disadvantaged”
30 points apiece:
- increases functionality of facility
- renders the facility “more resilient”
- promotes multiple transportation choices
- revitalizes and enhances low-income communities
- promotes economic development in low-income communities
- enhancements of access to “critical intermodal locations” – this is counted twice, for a total of 80 points.
- limit or reduce emissions
- avoids impact on state resources
- furthers state/local economic development strategies
25 points apiece:
- compliance with “complete streets” policies
- reduce vehicle miles
- increase usage of walking, biking, or transit
- enhances existing community assets
- furthers community and state plans for revitalization
- supports compact development and reduces sprawl
- cumulative job accessibility for the “disadvantaged” – similar to a 40-point bullet above, so call this 60 points
Then there’s the kicker: not only is the points system biased toward mass transit projects, but then there’s a multiplier involved where scores are increased by a factor of taking the population of the affected area and dividing it by the state’s population at large. Naturally most of the Montgomery County delegation likes this because it adds up to 138 “extra” points on their score while Wicomico County could only get an additional 13. (Poor Kent County can only pick up 3.) Never mind we’re helping MoCo to build their boondoggle of a Purple Line, although to Hogan’s credit he is insisting the county help out more.
Because Hogan is very popular among the voters – in part because he’s working for the whole state, and not just the handful of Democratic strongholds which propelled his predecessor to victory – the Democrats in the General Assembly are doing their level best to tie Hogan’s hands. But the question is whether this bill can get out of committee, and it’s likely the legislators who represent the areas outside the urban cores are working hard to kill this bill. It’s the individual counties and legislators who know what the priorities are in their areas, and considering the last administration balanced its budgets on the backs of those Maryland drivers who fill up their gas tanks it’s time to do that maintenance that’s long been promised.
This bill needs to find a desk drawer someplace and stay there until May.
Update: As is often the case, the bills that need to die live on. According to Delegate Christopher Adams (and verified moments ago) the amended bill passed committee on a party-line 15-8 vote.