Counties to TRAIN Commission: Improve Process, Maintain Local Input, Remember Local HUR Funding

MACo’s President Calvin Ball and a county panel addressed the State’s Transportation Revenues and Investment Needs Commission, discussing the process for state project selection, the county “road show,” and potential scoring systems for major state projects. The background issue, unsurprisingly, was the continued statutory version of county Highway User Revenues away from local governments – about which Commissioners sought more information at subsequent meetings.

As the Maryland Commission on Transportation Revenues and Infrastructure Needs (cleverly monikered the TRAIN Commission) continued its meetings, it requested input from local governments on the “road show” and accompanying process used to submit and select major state projects to be funded as part of the State’s Consolidated Transportation Plan. On October 18, MACo President and Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, himself a member of the Commission selected by MACo, led off a discussion on this collaborative process, and the importance of local input.

Siera Wigfield, Senior Planner in Garrett County, testifies before the Maryland TRAIN Commission

The county panel that followed included:

Siera Wigfield, Senior Planner, Garrett County
Bruce Gartner, Director, Howard County Department of Transportation
Michael Sanderson, Executive Director, Maryland Association of Counties

MACo submitted a letter to the Commission, which was included in its meeting materials. From the MACo letter comes this segment regarding the process of county “priority letters” as a foundational element in the State’s capital consideration process:

Among the topics raised in early Commission meetings and cued for county input here, is the potential for more uniformity of the priority submissions from counties to the Department. County input on this topic has varied widely, with some jurisdictions indicating that a more standardized process may have benefits, by setting clearer expectations of the scope needed for proper State consideration.

However, one broad consideration is that a reformed process should not, itself, become a barrier to worthy projects gathering fair consideration. If the pursuit of uniformity translates to a far more complex and burdensome set of required submissions, some jurisdictions may lack the in-house expertise to fully prepare materials of a high standard, and may leave worthy projects without the full documentation required/expected. This is a concern of county governments in particular, in light of the still-lingering reduction in Highway User Revenues (state support for local transportation), where county governments still receive only a modest fraction of their longtime funding allocation (since reductions made in 2009). Without any authority to levy local transportation revenues, many counties continue to operate with very thin public works personnel, as they remain deeply under-funded.

The Maryland Municipal League followed MACo with its own discussion on transportation projects, and the relative importance of State transportation funding to cities’ and towns’ own local infrastructure needs.

During Commissioners’ conversation with both local government panels, the matter of Highway User Revenues was raised, with one Commissioner asking Commission staff for a presentation on the history of HUR funding, to place the still-ongoing reductions into a clearer context. For readers new to the issue of Highway User Revenues, please see Conduit Street coverage from 2019 for more historical context: Taking the Longer Look at Transportation Funding

See also The Daily Record‘s coverage of the hearing online: MD Counties, Cities Push for Continued Transportation Aid (content for TDR subscribers only)

The balance of the meeting focused on project evaluation and scoring concepts, including perspectives from other states using such schemes more actively than Maryland.

Read the MACo letter

View the meeting materials

Watch the October 18 TRAIN Commission meeting via online video

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties