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Transportation decisions stir up fight in Annapolis

Rachel Baye

A political fight is brewing in Annapolis over how the state decides which transportation projects to build.

Democrats have proposed ranking projects based on how well they reduce congestion or increase development. But the governor’s office says the system would hurt rural areas.  

State Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn showed the House Appropriations Committee a chart on Tuesday. It showed 96 percent of the state’s transportation spending going to Montgomery County and the rest to Baltimore City. That scenario would be the result of the proposed ranking system, he said, since transit projects would receive better scores than roads and bridges.

“Safety is weighted very low in this system," he said. "Bridge replacement and preservation would not score highly enough to be included.”

Rahn also said the proposal would remove local government input from the transportation planning process.

Though the bill doesn’t require that the Department of Transportation use the scores to decide which projects should move forward, it does require that the department offer a rational, written explanation for any lower-scoring projects that get funding over higher-scoring projects. Rahn said that would create unnecessary bureaucracy.

On the other hand, Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat, said the bill creates transparency in a process laden with competing interests.

“I really don’t think the citizens of Maryland trust that process," she said.

When Democrats introduced the measure a couple weeks ago, they pointed to Gov Larry Hogan’s decision to cancel Baltimore’s Red Line light rail and reduce state funding for the Washington area’s Purple Line.

Del. Pam Beidle, a Democrat from Anne Arundel County who is sponsoring the legislation, refuted that and responded to other allegations Hogan’s office made.

“It isn’t a knee-jerk response to the Red Line or the Purple Line," she said. "It doesn’t pit rural against urban jurisdictions, and it most certainly isn’t a reckless power grab.”

However, the governor’s administration isn’t alone in its concerns. The Maryland Association of Counties also raised concerns that the bill would drown out local jurisdictions’ opinions.