In a move to combat air pollution in Baltimore and 13 counties, the state yesterday awarded a $96.9 million contract to a Nashville, Tenn., company that will bring Maryland motorists a tougher, more time-consuming and expensive tailpipe test.
MARTA Technologies Inc. will build and equip 19 emissions inspection stations and turn them over to the state under terms of the contract approved by the state Board of Public Works. The company will operate the stations for three years, with an option for two more.
In the stations, vehicles will be tested on a treadmill to simulate actual driving conditions. Mandated by the federal Clean Air Act for areas that have severe air pollution, the biennial exhaust tests are considered a more reliable gauge of an emissions system than are current tests, which analyze exhaust as the engine idles.
MARTA, a subsidiary of the Ohio-based Allen Group Inc., was recently judged the best contender in a field of four by a panel appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer last fall to oversee the politically charged procurement.
The decision leaves Envirotest Technologies Inc., the operator of Maryland's current testing stations, a loser despite having submitted a low bid of $94.3 million. The company scored poorly in a technical evaluation that rated such things as equipment, station design and management plan.
Mr. Schaefer, along with Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, approved the contract. State Treasurer Lucille Maurer, the board's third member, was absent, but endorsed the contract in a letter read aloud by the governor. "I think the committee did a superb job," Mr. Schaefer said. "It's something over which we have no choice. We have to do it."
An estimated 1.5 million cars and trucks will be required to be tested.
Tests currently are administered in Baltimore, its five surrounding counties and Montgomery and Prince George's. But they now will be taken also in Calvert, Cecil, Charles, Frederick, Queen Anne's and Washington counties. Test fees are likely to rise from $8.50 to $17. Failing a test will mean vehicle owners could face repair bills of up to $450.
All of the existing emissions stations, which are owned by Envirotest, will be closed after Jan. 1, 1995. Locations for the new stations were chosen by MARTA under a formula that required sites to be within 12 miles of 85 percent of the public.
Mark P. Keener, a Baltimore lawyer who chaired the panel, told board members that one of the most important elements of MARTA's design is that the testing centers can be enlarged if needed.
"They [MARTA] will buy enough land to expand and it wouldn't be a difficult process," Mr. Keener said. "It represents the least long-term risk to the state if the stations turn out to be under-designed and the lines are too long." The emissions inspection contract has been a political hot potato for the Maryland Department of Transportation. It has endured considerable criticism, most notably from black legislators who felt the selection process was unfair to Envirotest, whose chief executive officer is black. The controversial state contract was the second overseen by a panel appointed by Mr. Schaefer. In 1990, the governor created two panels to review the awarding of a the contract to supply a lottery computer system.
State officials said yesterday that the decision to award the emissions contract to MARTA demonstrated the fairness of the process. MARTA was the only bidder not represented by a lobbyist in Annapolis. The company would not appear to be entirely without political connections, however. To build its stations, MARTA picked Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. -- headed by longtime Schaefer ally Willard Hackerman -- and a minority firm, Essex Construction.
CB Commercial Real Estate Group Inc. brokered $8.6 million in land deals for MARTA station sites. The agents who arranged the contracts work in the same Pratt Street office as James Lighthizer Jr., the 26-year-old son of Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer.
The younger Mr. Lighthizer, who is a broker for CB Commercial, said yesterday that he was not involved in the transaction and would not benefit from it.
MARTA currently operates an emissions inspection program in Central Florida. It formerly ran a Tennessee system.