Hogan shifts money to roads, but not everyone's a winner

Queen Anne, Md -- 7/17/15 -- Traffic on Route 50 south waits to turn onto Route 404 heading east. The Hogan administration is giving Talbot and Caroline counties $160 million to widen Route 404. Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun Staff.

When Gov. Larry Hogan pulled the plug on Baltimore's Red Line last month, he rolled out $2 billion in spending on road projects, giving the state's toll-free highway system its largest infusion of cash in decades.

In shifting Maryland's transportation priorities from transit projects to roads, the Republican made clear that as long as he is governor, asphalt will flow freely.


But not necessarily evenly.

The list of major new projects that Hogan funded includes big-ticket highway improvements for rural Maryland, from Garrett County in the west to the Eastern Shore. There are projects costing $100 million or more in Prince George's, Montgomery and Frederick counties.


In Baltimore City? Nothing.

In Baltimore County? Less than 1 percent of spending for new projects.

"It does appear that a lot of this is not in the Baltimore area. That's pretty striking," said Andrew Farkas, director of the National Transportation Center at Morgan State University.

While some of the $2 billion will be spent for the next installments of projects already in the pipeline or stepped-up maintenance of roads and bridges, $845 million is for new projects that Hogan put in the state's transportation plan.

Some of that money will come from canceling the Red Line and cutting the state's contribution to the Washington-area Purple Line. But the new highway spending also is possible because the state's Transportation Trust Fund is now flush with money from Maryland's 2013 gas tax increase — a measure opposed by Hogan and rural legislators.

Transit-minded Baltimore lawmakers provided critical votes to pass that bill, but now they can only watch as the money goes to other jurisdictions:

•Garrett County: $90 million, or more than 10 percent of the new project money, to realign U.S. 219 between Interstate 68 and the Pennsylvania line.

•Caroline and Talbot counties: $160 million, or almost 20 percent of the new funds, to widen Route 404, the gateway to the Delaware beaches and North Ocean City.


•Anne Arundel: $100 million for its top two priorities, a new interchange at Routes 295 and 175 near Fort Meade and a reconfiguration of the Severn River bridge on U.S. 50 near Annapolis. Together the projects account for more than 10 percent of the $845 million.

•Prince George's County: $135 million to rebuild the Capital Beltway interchange leading to the Greenbelt Metro station. The project, accounting for about 15 percent of the new state spending, is regarded as crucial to luring the FBI to locate its headquarters there.

Meanwhile, Baltimore County is getting just $5 million, or 1 percent of the money, to widen a stretch of Reisterstown Road.

The spending choices have drawn criticism, including from environmentalists, who contend that spending money on highways will bring more pollution and sprawling development.

But Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn pointed to the results of last year's election.

"What this reflects is the governor's position he took during the campaign, when he said more needs to be spent on fixing roads and bridges and less on transit," Rahn said.


Rahn said the governor's office played no role in the selection of projects. He said that was done by the Transportation Department's professional staff based on the requests from each of the counties, not politics.

"What we tried to do was focus on those projects that would address either a very poor condition or congestion," he said.

In fact, there is no clear correlation between political concerns and the choice of projects. While GOP-dominated counties such as Garrett and Talbot did well, other counties with Republican administrations came up empty. In the Baltimore region, Harford, Howard and Carroll counties didn't make the list. Statewide, nearly half of the 23 counties received no new major projects, including many that Hogan carried by landslide proportions in the November election.

But some of the administration's choices strike critics as misplaced priorities.

Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of the environmental group 1,000 Friends of Maryland, said the Garrett County project is especially wasteful.

"There is nothing there other than an Arby's, a Dollar Store, a Burger King, a few other businesses and less than 100 homes," she said. "It's taking the highway from nowhere, through nowhere to nowhere."


That isn't how the project is seen in Garrett, where county officials made it their top priority. County Administrator R. Lamont Pagenhardt said that while the county is well served by east-west highways, that stretch of north-south U.S. 219 is a two-lane road.

"We just need better connectivity north-south," he said.

Rahn said U.S. 219 moved up the list because federal development funds for the Appalachian region will pay for almost the entire project.

Critics are also questioning the Route 404 project in Talbot and Caroline counties. They say the road becomes congested only on summer weekends and that traffic flows freely every other day of the year. They contend that the project would do more for economic development in Delaware than in Maryland.

Rahn said the project is driven by safety concerns. He said he gets a notification every time there is a traffic fatality on a Maryland road.

"I'm getting way too many of those on 404," he said.


Garrett, Talbot and Caroline are among Maryland's least-populous and most-Republican counties — and delivered at least 70 percent of their votes for Hogan. But some large, Democratic-dominated counties also fared well.

Gary Erenreich, acting deputy director for transportation policy in Montgomery County, said officials there welcome Hogan's $100 million project to relieve congestion on Interstate 270.

"We're enthusiastic that this is moving forward," he said.

In Prince George's County, another large jurisdiction that favored Hogan's Democratic opponent, there was a mixed reaction to Hogan's highway plans. County Executive Rushern L. Baker III's administration was pleased to see the Greenbelt project approved, but was dismayed to be handed a "totally unexpected" bill for $50 million as its share of the $185 million project. It was the only highway project on Hogan's list that came with a demand for local matching funds.

"With the noted exception of the additional funding request for Greenbelt, overall we are pleased with the direction the transportation program is headed," said Darrell Mobley, director of the Prince George's County Department of Public Works. Rahn said the state's insistence on a county share reflects the economic benefits that Prince George's will derive from the project.

Besides the $845 million for major new projects, Hogan also allocated $500 million in added funds for maintenance of the state's roads and bridges.


Rahn pointed out that counties that were not selected for big-ticket items would receive a share of that money for projects that would not lend themselves to a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

"If this was politically driven, you wouldn't see $500 million going into maintenance of the system," Rahn said. "I will stand behind the program and the benefits it will provide to Marylanders."

For Baltimore, the decision to cancel the Red Line has an enormous impact. What had been expected to be a $3 billion investment in the city's future — bringing thousands of construction jobs and a boost to the local economy — vanished.

Nor was that lost investment replaced by any new highway spending. Many people noticed when Hogan's team unveiled a map showing projects across the state but mistakenly showing Baltimore entirely under the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

Asked at his news conference whether there was anything in his package for Baltimore, Hogan said, "Not that I know of."

Aides later said Baltimore would benefit more than any county if the General Assembly approves the governor's plan to shift a large portion of the Transportation Trust Fund from state to local projects. But that $400 million over six years is contingent on the Democratic-controlled legislature agreeing to a policy change it turned down this year.


That Baltimore got nothing for projects in part reflects its special status in the state's transportation funding scheme. Because it maintains state routes inside its borders, the city receives a larger share of local highway aid than the counties but does not typically benefit from State Highway Administration spending. While the city could have asked the governor to make an exception this year, it did not, deciding to throw its full weight behind the Red Line.

In Baltimore County, officials were puzzled that their first priority, a $1 million study of a new interchange at Broening Highway and the Beltway, was not on Hogan's list.

"I feel certain that the case was made. It relates directly to the development of Sparrows Point," said Fronda Cohen, a spokeswoman for County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat. She said county officials have not received an explanation of why their top choice was not funded.

Erin Henson, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Transportation, said Hogan's announcement dealt only with projects that will be ready for construction by 2018. She said it remains undecided whether the study will be funded next year.

Henson said it is important to view the numbers in the context of the state's six-year transportation plan. She pointed to $200 million in transit investments in Baltimore in the plan, as well as $400 million to continue major projects in Baltimore County.

Now, after eight years of complaints from rural counties that then-Gov. Martin O'Malley was shortchanging them, priorities are changing.


"After years of investing the majority of all transportation dollars in the urban areas, it is time to ensure that we invest in key highway projects in the rural areas as well," Henson said.

Top 10 new highway projects in Hogan plan

Talbot and Caroline: $160 million to widen Route 404 between U.S. 50 and Denton.

Prince George's: $135 million to improve access to Greenbelt Metro station.

Frederick: $110 million to reconstruct interchange of Route 85 and I-270.


Montgomery: $100 million to relieve congestion on I-270 between the Capital Beltway and I-370.

Garrett: $90 million to realign U.S. 219 north of I-68 and replace interchange.

Anne Arundel: $75 million to reconstruct interchange of Route 175 and Route 295 near Fort Meade.

Worcester: $65 million to upgrade U.S. 113 north of Snow Hill.

Prince George's: $30 million to rebuild U.S. 1 at College Park.

Anne Arundel: $25 million to reconfigure lanes on Severn River bridge on U.S. 50.


Calvert: $25 million to widen Solomons Island Road (Route 2/4) at Prince Frederick.