MDOT Letter: Counties Must Do “Front End” Analysis on Major State Projects

In a letter sent to county chief elected officials (dated July 28), the Maryland Department of Transportation announced its intention to require county governments, rather than the state, to make a wide variety of analyses for proposed major transportation projects. The sudden change in policy has left county governments unclear on how to accomplish the lofty and ambitious request – especially since the lengthy list of analyses is to be received by August 15.

“This can’t be the end of the conversation,” MACo President John Barr said. “The counties don’t have the technical ability, or the funding, to do all this work, period — much less in two weeks time. We need to work this out.”

Cecil County Director of Public Works W. Scott Flanigan, speaking as the County Engineers Association of Maryland President, said, “These requirements place a heavy, and I would say, unreasonable burden on counties and other local jurisdictions. The practical effect is likely to be that it will be that much harder for the state to address pressing local transportation concerns.”

Coverage in the Annapolis Capital said the letter “reignites transportation funding debate,” citing the controversial legislation HB 1013 from the 2016 session. MACo opposed HB 1013, and worked to attach numerous amendments to the bill before its passage (and veto override).

One of the amendments MACo supported was to clarify that the bill would not upend the process used to identify projects for state consideration – hinging for many years on county-identified priorities. That segment of the enacted bill (on page 18, lines 22-26) reads as follows:

(E) NOTHING IN THIS SECTION MAY BE CONSTRUED TO IMPEDE OR ALTER:

(1) THE PRIORITY LETTER PROCESS THAT OUTLINES LOCAL TRANSPORTATION PRIORITIES FOR THE DEPARTMENT’S CONSIDERATION FOR INCLUSION IN THE CONSOLIDATED TRANSPORTATION PROGRAM UNDER §2–103.125 OF THIS SUBTITLE

An official statement from MDOT elaborated, laying the blame for the rapid timing on the requirements of the legislation. It reads, in full:

The law passed by the Maryland General Assembly details those requirements and criteria and MDOT is required to follow the law. This process is new to all of us. We too are continuing to evaluate the criteria as prescribed by law.

According to the new law, counties need to provide data to MDOT for “highway or transit projects that improve capacity and exceed $5 million in total cost”. This includes those on the priority list.

Any project in the current CTP that is not in the construction phase must be scored according to the law in order to be eligible to compete for available funding in the 2017-2022 CTP. According to the law, scoring can impact the possibility of a project being funded.

This is a complex bill that went into effect July 1. It required thorough (MDOT) staff review of many goals and measures. We fully recognize the extremely challenging timeline the General Assembly placed on the counties. We hope the jurisdictions will be able to work with us to meet the statutory deadlines. By law, the draft FY 2017-2022 CTP must be issued on September 1.

The Department did indicate that Secretary Pete Rahn will attend the MACo Summer Conference, and will be available to discuss these issues with county leaders. MACo has expressed an active interest in the Association, and its member counties, being at the table for any dialogue ahead regarding the processes affected.