At the end of January, a young mother from Greensboro lost her life in a fatal collision on Maryland Route 404 on the Eastern Shore. Two men — one from Severna Park, and one from Easton — were also injured in this horrible accident. In December, a Montgomery County Delegate posted a Facebook meme mocking the expansion of this very road, dismissing this dangerous highway as a "road to Delaware."
This attitude toward rural transportation projects seems to be trending among Maryland Democrats. In early January, the Senate president sarcastically stated that the funds for the much-needed improvements for Interstate 81 in Western Maryland were going to improve a "road to West Virginia."
All roads lead somewhere, and the road Maryland Democrats are taking in regard to transportation funding is paved with arrogance and entitlement. Nothing makes this more obvious than the Road Kill Bill. The bill upends a very transparent process in which road construction projects are funded based on the priorities of the local jurisdictions. The Road Kill Bill replaces that system (a system that worked under the administrations of multiple Democratic governors) with a bureaucratic and expensive process with scoring criteria that take little regard for safety and instead guide funding to mass transit and urban jurisdictions. Not only does the Road Kill Bill ignore the needs of rural Maryland, its web of bureaucracy will cost taxpayer's at least $1 million a year on paper pushing rather than road paving.
The arrogance of power on display in these comments solidifies an important point; Maryland Democrats are willing to sacrifice the safety of the motoring public — particularly those in rural areas — on the altar of political expediency. What is most shameful is that they brush off the dangerous nature of these roadways, either because they are ignorant of the accident statistics on them or they simply do not care. In doing so, they cheapen the value of those lives lost, as well as those who travel these roads every day.
Just over 12 miles of Interstate 81 passes through Washington County in Western Maryland. According to the Maryland Highway Safety Office, between 2007 and 2015 there were 903 motor vehicle crashes on that highway. That's an average of just over 100 accidents per year — crashes that have injured 548 people and killed 13.
The 25-mile MD-404 runs from Wye Mills to the Delaware border, passing through three Eastern Shore counties. While in a rural location, 404 is a well-used route for vacationers across our state who head to the beaches during the summer months. Route 404 is a two-lane road that has been dualized in a piecemeal manner for decades.
Between 2007 and 2015, there have been 763 motor vehicle crashes on that stretch of road, an average of 85 per year with a peak during summer travel. These crashes have injured 525 people and killed 23. In fact, there have been so many deaths in the road's history that a memorial garden has been built to remember those who have lost their lives on this dangerous road.
Finally, through the efforts of the Hogan administration, Route 404's full dualization will be completed by fall of this year and will not be impacted by the Road Kill Bill. However, while part of the I-81 rehabilitation has been funded, the money to complete the remaining phases of the project is in jeopardy because of the Road Kill Bill. If the scoring system is implemented as the law instructs, the continued rehabilitation of I-81 is one of the 66 transportation projects that will be eliminated by the Road Kill Bill. While some assert that the governor can simply ignore these provisions of law and fund whatever projects he desires, it is quite clear in the language of the law that this is not the case. It is not the habit of the General Assembly to pass laws that can be ignored.
The Democratic leadership in Maryland made a bad play with the Road Kill Bill. Instead of admitting their mistakes and moving forward with a repeal, they've decided to double down on their error. In doing so, they've also managed to show complete disregard for the lives and safety of those traveling these dangerous roads. While it isn't all that surprising, it is terribly disappointing. The citizens of Maryland — rural or urban — deserve better.
Kathy Szeliga, a Republican, is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates and the minority whip. Her email is email@example.com.