Transportation “Scoring” Process, and Controversy, Continues

The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) continues to pursue the “scoring” process for major transportation projects for this year’s Consolidated Transportation Program (CTP) document, and has offered counties preliminary information on what projects would be funded based on preliminary Department project scoring. Counties face an August 15 deadline for submitting local information and analysis to contribute to the scoring – a deadline first announced in a July 28 letter from MDOT.

Read previous coverage from Conduit Street:

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

Chairmen Fire Back: MDOT Transfer To Counties “Never Considered”

An August 9 letter sent to counties by MDOT offers a preliminary scoring assessment of each county’s proposed projects, and indicates:

In order to comply with the goals and measures for the project-based scoring system required under Chapter 36 and based on the project rankings completed by the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), only the top 7 projects are able to be funded.

The Frederick News-Post has posted a copy the the MDOT letter received by Frederick County, indicating that none of its priority projects could be funded. From their article:

One project Ports listed as potentially receiving no funding — a $31 million second Md. 180 bridge over U.S. 15/U.S. 340 — was actually promoted in Frederick by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in a press conference announcing the project’s planned funding earlier this year.

Now, Ports’ letter states that the scoring system will allow MDOT to fund only the top seven “capacity projects” in the state. The bridge and other improvements along Md. 180 are currently ranked 65th and 45th out of 73 total projects, according to Ports’ letter.

In a conversation today with MACo, MDOT indicated that the August 9 follow-up letter was intended to answer questions raised by several counties in recent days. Regarding the list of funded or non-funded projects, a representative said, “If we were to only fund projects according to the weighted scores, there would only be funding for these seven. That’s what the letter is explaining.”

The legislation referenced, HB 1013 from the 2016 session, includes a clause to establish the intended link between project scoring and funding:

(3) THE DEPARTMENT MAY INCLUDE IN THE CONSOLIDATED TRANSPORTATION PROGRAM A MAJOR TRANSPORTATION PROJECT WITH A LOWER SCORE OVER A MAJOR TRANSPORTATION PROJECT WITH A HIGHER SCORE IF IT PROVIDES IN WRITING A RATIONAL BASIS FOR THE DECISION.

(This clause appears at the bottom of page 17 of the enrolled version of the bill)

Meanwhile, jurisdictions are responding to both the newly announced requirements for county information and analysis, but also the short timeline affecting projects for the pending CTP. From Washington Post coverage:

In late July, the Maryland Department of Transportation sent a letter to counties giving them less than three weeks to produce detailed studies for projects on their local transportation wish lists and threatening to withhold funding if they did not comply.

Democratic lawmakers say their legislation imposed no such demands and that scoring was not supposed to start until next year.

And officials in Baltimore and Prince George’s, who fired back with their own letters, say they won’t comply because the state’s ultimatum is unreasonable. They say the studies requested — including reviews of costs, environmental impacts and effects on traffic — are not available at this stage.

State officials have backed off the threat to withhold funding for counties that don’t produce the studies. But they cautioned that information provided by counties will inform the state’s scoring.

As for the complaints about the short timetable for the counties’ studies to be completed? State officials say it is because the law took effect on July 1 and, based on their reading, immediately applies to the projects under consideration for funding this year.

“This isn’t something we are doing as a scare tactic. The legislature created this law. We have an obligation to enforce it,” said Erin Henson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation. “Clearly the law is confusing.”

The Post’s reference that the Department has “backed off” may refer to an interview with The Daily Record (article is accessibly only to paid subscribers), where Deputy Secretary James Ports clarified the Department’s intentions regarding project funding.

To read the full article, visit the Daily Record website, content available to subscribers only: “Official contradicts letter seeking info on Md. road projects”