Repealing ‘Road Kill Bill’ A Top Priority For Governor

BERLIN — Gov. Larry Hogan this week vowed to make repealing legislation passed by the General Assembly last year to eliminate state highway projects across Maryland, including a couple in Worcester, a top priority in the upcoming session.

Last year, the General Assembly passed House Bill 1013, more commonly known as the “Road Kill Bill,” which transfers the authority to make funding decisions on major highway projects across the state away from the governor, the Department of Transportation and local elected officials and instead putting it in the hands of a seemingly flawed scoring system that rates the validity and necessity of the highway projects. Under the Road Kill Bill, 67 of the 73 state highway improvement projects in every jurisdiction in Maryland would fail to reach a score justifying moving forward with them.

In Worcester County, one of the projects that would be impacted, according to the Road Kill Bill formula, would be the eventual replacement of the Route 50 Bridge into Ocean City. Another Worcester project that would not get any more consideration under the Road Kill Bill would be improvements to the highly congested Route 589 corridor.

On Wednesday, Hogan, along with Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn, held a press conference in Annapolis to announce a vigorous effort to repeal the Road Kill Bill would be his top priority during the 2017 General Assembly session. Hogan vowed to submit emergency legislation to repeal the bill and ultimately return the prioritization of transportation projects back to local jurisdictions.

“Today, I am here to announce that we will submit emergency legislation for our top priority for this legislative session, which is to push for the full and immediate repeal of the disastrous bill which will absolutely be responsible for the elimination of nearly all of the most important transportation priorities in every single jurisdiction across the state,” he said.

For years, the counties have compiled prioritized lists of wanted highway improvement projects to submit to the state for consideration based on the availability of funding. In Worcester, the continued dualization of Route 113 has been at the top of the list for decades, followed by the Route 50 Bridge and Route 589, for example, although there has been a renewed push for Route 90.

“It will wreak havoc on the entire state transportation system and usurp important authority away from local government and away from the executive branch of state government and giving authority instead to lobbyists and special interest groups,” said Hogan. “The repercussions of this law are quite simply disastrous for our state and I can assure you that on behalf of our citizens, I will not stop fighting until this catastrophic bill is repealed.”

At a legislative hearing in November, Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn outlined the law’s severe and fatal flaws and strongly advocated the need for a full and total repeal. Under questioning by legislators, the secretary repeatedly stated that there is no possible method by which the department could create regulations implementing the law that would not result in the vast majority of the priority of projects being cancelled.

“The one-size-fits-all ranking system mandated by this law is wrong for Maryland drivers, wrong for employers relying on needed improvements to local roads and bridges, wrong for tourists and visitors traveling to our state, and wrong for Maryland taxpayers who expect their dollars to be spent in an fair and equitable manner on projects that will improve their daily lives,” he said. “This administration is committed to funding top priority projects in all regions of the state, and the only way that can happen is if this deeply misguided law is repealed.”

The Route 50 Bridge project is currently in stage two of the planning process with detailed studies being conducted. Based on public input and an evaluation of impacts including residential, environmental and socio-economic, SHA’s preferred option is Alternative 5A, which includes a new parallel span immediately north of the existing bridge. In somewhat of a new wrinkle, however, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is pushing for Alternative 6, which would bring the new bridge across the bay much farther north with a terminus at 9th Street. According to the SHA website, the DNR favors that alternative because it would have the least impact on Skimmer Island, home to several species of migratory nesting birds.

The Route 589 project is in the planning phase, which has been funded at $1.4 million. The study includes a potential shared-use path and sidewalks to accommodate pedestrians and bicycles. It is among the 66 projects at risk listed in the governor’s report.

According to SHA, transportation improvements associated with the project would relieve traffic congestion and improve traffic safety along the main Route 589 corridor and at its intersection with Route 50.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.