SNOW HILL — Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) representatives paid a visit last week to the Worcester County Commissioners to deliver an update on everything from statewide flight and shipping patterns to local transit and pedestrian safety efforts.
MDOT Acting Secretary Darrell Mobley started the proceedings by addressing the elephant in the room: funding. He called funding “a critical challenge” for all transportation efforts in Maryland. Even with a recent bump in federal funding, Mobley explained that MDOT is limited in how it can use the money.
“This federal funding only allows us to pay for projects that are already underway,” he said.
Not only are there issues with federal funding but state money is limited as well, according to Mobley.
“The amount of dollars at the state level also remains generally flat,” he told the commissioners.
Fortunately, not everything is doom and gloom in transportation. At the state level, both shipping and flight statistics are doing well with Mobley underlining the “positive indicators” that his agency has been observing in recent months. For example, he revealed that BWI airport in Baltimore posted record numbers this summer.
“The airport had its busiest month ever this July,” said Mobley, reporting more than 2.2 million people used BWI that month.
There is also good news on Maryland’s waters. Mobley pointed out that state ports are going strong and poised to get even stronger in the near future.
“Maryland is strategically positioned to take advantage of that cargo that will be coming through the Panama Canal in 2015,” he said.
At a more local level, MDOT Transit Policy Development Director Ira Silverman spoke briefly about Shore Transit and public transportation. Like all departments, Silverman stressed that transit’s “budget has been constrained” in recent years but asserted that progress is still being made.
“Transit ridership is growing across the board,” she said.
On the Eastern Shore especially things are going well, according to Silverman, who emphasized how everyone works as a team; which is important for the area, since Ocean City is the third largest locally operated transit by ridership in the state.
Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles (MVA) representative Virginia Colon briefed the commission on her department’s efforts to make the process of acquiring and renewing a driver’s license more convenient without sacrificing safety.
“We want our customers to be able to do services online … although we love our customers, we don’t necessarily need to see them,” she said.
Also for convenience, MVA has extended the validity of non-commercial licenses starting this month up to eight years. Now, whenever someone over the age of 18 renews their license the next renewal date will be between five and eight years, as determined by computer selection.
Though undoubtedly convenient, the new license length made a few commissioners uneasy.
Commissioner Judy Boggs pointed out that such an extended period means that senior drivers won’t need to renew as often. Because health and therefore driving ability can deteriorate significantly in eight years, Boggs viewed this as dangerous.
“There’s a big difference between an 80-year old driver and an 88-year old driver,” she told Colon.
Colon agreed but promised Boggs that there are systems in place to prevent an unqualified driver from being on the road including a medical board that would review any license if a driver begins to display disruptive health issues like vastly deteriorated eye sight. Colon said that MVA is concerned most of all with keeping everyone safe.
For example, questions on beginner’s driving tests have been updated to be more realistic and, therefore, more difficult.
“Our failure rate has increased,” said Colon, who argued that “education is the biggest piece to highway safety.”
While not disputing efforts to increase safety, Commissioner Virgil Shockley had issues with recent moves by the MVA.
“It seems the Department of Transportation has literally declared war on people with trailers,” he told Colon.
According to Shockley, the crackdown began about eight months ago with bigger fines and tighter regulations. The worst part, in his opinion, was that trailer owners were not really made aware of the changes. Colon replied that she would share Shockley’s concerns with the MVA.
State Highway Association (SHA) Administrator Malinda Peters spoke to the commission about the importance of promoting pedestrian security on highways. Coastal Highway in Ocean City especially, said Peters, has a history of trouble with pedestrian collisions despite the town’s best efforts.
“No doubt we share safety as a paramount concern,” she said.