Two badly needed road projects in Harford County, which have already been on the state's books for years, could lose any chance of getting funded, if a new scoring system to prioritize road projects remains in place, according to state and local officials.
"It's already a pretty political and burdensome process," Harford County Barry Glassman said of getting funding to improve state-maintained roads in small and mid-sized counties such as Harford.
The local projects most affected are a planned roundabout at Routes 7 and 159 south of Aberdeen at the gateway to the Perryman industrial district and the dualization of the Bel Air Bypass from Fallston to Hickory.
Gov. Larry Hogan has pledged to introduce emergency legislation during the 2017 Maryland General Assembly, which starts Jan. 19, to repeal what he has dubbed the "road kill bill."
Hogan, a Republican, is referring to the Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016, which was passed in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly in March. Hogan vetoed the act, but the legislature overrode his veto.
"For counties like us, it just puts us at a further disadvantage," Glassman said during a recent interview.
Jurisdictions with the largest populations are at the top of a list of 73 projects in the state's Consolidated Transportation Program for 2017 to 2022. The state can only fund a handful of those 73 projects, though.
"When we got to project No. 7, we ran out of money," Erin Henson, a spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Transportation, said regarding a state priority list.
The list of 73 projects, and each project's score, is posted on the MDOT website in chart form. Henson pointed out the "population multiplier" at the end of the chart. The "project score," or base score, takes into account multiple factors such as safety and security, the impact on quality of service, whether it helps preserve the transportation system and the impact on the economy, the environment and the surrounding community.
The project score is then weighted against the size of the population within the project area. As an example, the No. 1 project, a bus transit system along Route 29 in Howard and Montgomery counties, got a project score of 738. Factor in a population of 1.2 million in the area served, and the project gets a score of 898.
"Whatever scored the highest would get the money first, based on this law's requirements for scoring," Henson said.
The two Harford County projects on the list – the Perryman roundabout and widening of 5.5 miles of the Bypass between Route 152 and the Hickory Bypass to create a "multilane highway" – are ranked 47th and 68th, respectively.
The Perryman roundabout project, which serves an area of 244,826 people – essentially Harford County's entire population, has a total score of 569. The Route 1 project, which serves a population of the same size, has a total score of 488 points, according to the MDOT's chart.
The Perryman project is one of several improvements needed to what is the principal highway access – one lane in and one lane out - to one of the largest concentration of warehouses and distribution centers between Baltimore and Wilmington, De.
The portion of the Bypass – Route 1 – in need of widening has long been considered one of Harford's most dangerous highway stretches. The most recent fatal accident there was in April.
The state has not committed funding to either project yet, and Henson said "they'll never be funded," if the scoring system remains in place.
"The requirement to have a population multiplier in this law automatically gives the advantage to densely-populated areas and to transit projects," she said.
The top seven projects are in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, in the densely-populated Washington, D.C. metro area, and neighboring Charles and Howard counties, where the project involves an inter-county transit corridor.
Henson noted that leaves 20 out of 24 jurisdictions in Maryland – Baltimore City and 23 counties – with "zero projects."
Glassman said the Perryman Road project will make it easier for commercial traffic to move in and out of Harford's industrial zone, especially with the announcement this fall that the e-commerce firm XPO Logistics leased a 571,000-square-foot building off of Chelsea Road, bringing more than 400 jobs to the area.
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He said the Route 1 project has been on the state's books a long time, dating back to when Glassman served in the House of Delegates in late 1990s and 2000s.
"There has been a long-term [plan] to dualize that to carry traffic around Bel Air, to relieve the traffic that comes through Business Route 1," he said of the highway that splits from the main Route 1 at the Maryland State Police Barrack and goes toward the Town of Bel Air.
"That's been there since I've been in the House and never funded, just pushed back," Glassman said.
The Maryland Attorney General's office issued a letter advising that Hogan's administration must, under the law, rank the projects based on the assigned scores, but officials can choose to fund lower-ranked projects with sufficient explanation.
Glassman noted Harford and other jurisdictions would have to provide information to the state about their desired transportation projects based on the information gathered by local transportation planners.
He said Harford County, however, does not have the budget or staff for planning large capital transportation projects.
"For small to medium-sized counties, it's a no-win situation for us," Glassman said.