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Baltimore fails to submit letter asking for state transportation funding

Traffic on northbound Light Street passes a construction area that has closed travel lanes for utility work. Preparation for September’s Grand Prix has also created delays.
Traffic on northbound Light Street passes a construction area that has closed travel lanes for utility work. Preparation for September’s Grand Prix has also created delays. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun file)

Baltimore transportation officials failed to submit a letter this year to the state asking for funding for capital projects in the city.

Adrienne Barnes, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Department of Transportation, acknowledged the failure to submit the letter. But she said in an email that transportation director Michelle Pourciau and Mayor Catherine Pugh have spoken with state officials about projects they want to see funded.

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“Due to the transition of staff, the Baltimore City Department of Transportation did not submit a priority letter for this current cycle,” she said. “Since their arrivals, Director Pourciau and Mayor Pugh have had conversations with MDOT officials on a variety of issues including the Hanover Street Bridge, signal priority upgrades, transit improvements, bike and pedestrian improvements as well as innovative technologies in the transportation field.”

Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan, said state officials would work with the city and wouldn’t penalize Baltimore for its lack of a priority letter.

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“The department will work with the city of Baltimore to receive their submission,” he said. “It’s not optimal, but we will work to accommodate the city’s priorities.”

State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said failure to submit the letter is a major mistake.

“It’s inexcusable,” he said. “Failure to send a priority letter to MDOT is the equivalent to telling the state that Baltimore City has no transportation needs, no vision, and no focus. Mistakes happen, but something this important cannot be one. I am well beyond disappointed. Mistakes like this have serious consequences.”

The sentiment was echoed by Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat.

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“There is great concern among the delegation that there were no priority projects submitted to the Department of Transportation,” she said. “Any kind of misstep with this Department of Transportation could cost us millions and millions of dollars. I hope that’s not the case.”

Even if funding isn’t lost, McIntosh said, transparency will suffer.

“How do we make sure Baltimore is getting the projects we’ve applied for if we don’t know what the projects are?” she asked. “Every member of the City Council ought to be outraged. Baltimore City citizens ought to be outraged. I think we’re all hoping this was a misstep because there’s a new transportation director and it’s going to be corrected quickly.”

Baltimore is one of three jurisdictions in Maryland that did not submit a letter stating their priorities for Maryland-funded transportation projects, according to the state’s website. The other two are located on the Eastern Shore.

State officials ask for local jurisdictions to submit a letter each year stating their priorities for state transportation capital projects.

The state revises its six-year capital budget each year based on the priority letters.

This year, Baltimore County listed regional mass-transit alternatives to the Red Line light rail and traffic improvements near developments in Owings Mill, Sparrows Point and elsewhere as among its priorities.

Howard County asked for funding to widen Route 29 and purchase new buses, among other initiatives.

Anne Arundel asked for work on Annapolis Road and Robert Crain Highway, among other projects.

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