SNOW HILL – Changes in legislation could mean an increase in costs associated with transportation projects for Worcester County.
During a meeting last week, county staff provided the Worcester County Commissioners with an update on changes associated with a bill passed by the legislature earlier this year. The bill (Senate Bill 307, Chapter 30 of the Acts of 2017) requires that the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) develop a project-based scoring system for major transportation projects.
“It’s not good news…,” said Ed Tudor, the county’s director of development review and permitting. “It seems like it’s gotten much more complicated than it used to be unnecessarily.”
Tudor said he’d reviewed the changes and had concerns with the process. He said transportation projects that exceeded $5 million would fall under the new Chapter 30 scoring system. For those projects, the county would have to submit a feasibility study defining the projects as well as a detailed cost estimates, all by March 1. Tudor said that while MDOT had offered to work with the county to get the needed studies completed, the costs associated with the increased documentation would still fall on Worcester County. While projects already under construction, such as Route 113, should not be affected, projects that haven’t yet been started, such as Route 90, could be impacted.
Because the bill is still in draft form, state officials advised Tudor requirements could still change prior to the March 1 submission date.
“There’s just no way we can complete anything relative to that March 1 deadline,” Tudor said.
He added that the county’s transportation priority letter, used annually to inform the state of transportation improvements desired in the county, was due April 1. Tudor said that even if the county couldn’t have any road studies done by March 1, commissioners could at least start thinking about what projects they wanted to list in the priority letter.
Commissioner Jim Bunting said improvements to Route 90 were critical. He urged his fellow commissioners to plan on including it in the priority list even if the county didn’t have the time or funding to get the mandated feasibility study done.
“This is a state problem…,” he said. “I think it’s time to push back a little bit on ridiculous legislation like this.”
Tudor said it was also important that each of the county’s municipalities weigh in on desired transportation improvements. He said municipal input would be considered during the scoring process. Commissioner Ted Elder agreed.
“It would behoove everybody to really try to work together,” Elder said.
Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said the county should seek help from its representatives to ensure that Route 90 could be addressed.
“I think we should press our delegates and our senator to work out something so the study could be funded by the state,” he said. “It’s a state highway.”
He said he knew that a Route 90 study could not be funded and completed by March 1 of 2018 but that the county could be ready for the following year.
“We can start planning for March 1 of 2019,” he said.