President’s Infrastructure Plan: $200b on Feds, Rest on the Rest of Us

On Monday, the Trump Administration unveiled its long-awaited infrastructure plan to Congress. The plan includes $200 billion in federal funds; the rest of the $1.5 trillion in spending is expected from state and local governments, in addition to the private sector.

The plan calls for shortening the federal approvals processes to two years or less, focusing infrastructure needs in rural areas, and encouraging American training opportunities.

CNBC has made the text of the plan available on its website.

Baltimore Sun reporter John Fritze points out that the plan calls attention to divesting federal control over the Baltimore-Washington Parkway – an essential step towards Governor Hogan’s Traffic Relief Plan.

From NPR’s coverage:

…the proposal will not be one that offers large sums of federal funding to states for infrastructure needs, but it is instead a financing plan that shifts much of the funding burden onto the states and onto local governments.

Critics say that will lead to higher state and local taxes, and an increased reliance on user fees, such as tolls, water and sewer fees, transit fares and airline ticket taxes.

Former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood told NPR’s Steve Inskeep that local governments cannot afford to shoulder any more burden for funding infrastructure than they already do. Listen to the interview here.

The Good News: Maryland Spared Massive Federal Shutdown

While you were presumably sleeping, the federal government partially shut down. Then, just before dawn, the House voted through a two-year spending plan – preventing a more extended shutdown. But, the deal leaves Dreamers in the dark and infrastructure and the opioid crisis with drops in their proverbial buckets. Governing reports on what this means for states and counties.

The agreement only includes $20 billion for infrastructure – and that mostly funds existing programs. Water, energy, broadband expansion and improved surface transportation will all share these funds. In addition, it only includes $6 billion  to address the opioid crisis.

The agreement increases federal spending by $300 billion over two years. Congress has six weeks now to incorporate the additional funds into a spending plan. This could be good or bad for Maryland:

This all means that some states could benefit or take a massive hit financially, depending on how closely appropriators align themselves with the administration. For example, in Maryland, Trump has called for Congress to eliminate money for the Chesapeake Bay, a pair of high-tech biodefense laboratories in the state and several programs at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Despite House Democrat Nancy Pelosi’s best efforts otherwise, the agreement does not address how to handle the Dreamers.

It does provide:

  • nearly $90 billion in disaster relief, with about ten percent of that going to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands;
  • long-term funding for health care programs including the Community Health Center Fund and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP);
  • $6 billion for mental health and programs addressing the opioid crisis
  • $20 billion for infrastructure

Read more here.

Yellow Lights: Don’t Mess With the Manual

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick testified in opposition to HB 204, Traffic Control Signal Monitoring Systems – Duration of Yellow Signal – otherwise titled the “4-Second Act.” The bill would require counties to ensure that yellow traffic signal lights stay lit for at least four seconds if there is a red light camera located at the intersection.

MACo generally opposes bills which affect county public works departments by attempting to override the sound, established regulations found in the U.S. Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). The MUTCD is already incorporated into Maryland law through the Transportation Article, as well as the Code of Federal Regulations.

From MACo’s testimony:

Under those preempting regulations, the duration of yellow lights at traffic signals, known as the “clearance interval,” must be based upon variables such as the size of the intersection, legal speed of approaching vehicles, grade and slope of the road approaching the intersection, and closest adjacent traffic signal. These variables all factor into an engineering analysis of how to set the timing on a yellow light.

Find other bills which might affect county public works departments here, and also here.

Conduit Street Podcast: #FixtheFund, Opioid Litigation, Wave of HUR Bills, Local Aid Intrigue, and more!

Maryland lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled a plan to amend the state constitution to ensure that taxes on casino revenues set aside for education are used to supplement, not supplant state funding for public schools.

Also this week, Baltimore City became the latest jurisdiction to announce plans to file lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, doctors, and so-called “pill mills,” in an effort to stem the drug abuse epidemic that is killing tens of thousands of Americans each year.

Could a compromise be in the works for the restoration of local highway user revenues? A new wave of bills may be pointing in that direction.

Finally, the Department of Legislative Services (DLS) has released their annual report detailing state aid to local governments and local effects of the state budget. The report includes details on virtually every component of state aid to local governments in the proposed FY 19 budget.

On the latest episode of the Conduit Street Podcast, Kevin Kinnally and Michael Sanderson break down the plan to place casino revenues in an education “lockbox,” analyze the possible outcomes of opioid litigation, discuss the new wave of highway user revenue bills, highlight some interesting tidbits from the DLS report, and more!

MACo has made the podcast available through both iTunes and Google Play Music by searching Conduit Street Podcast. You can also listen on our Conduit Street blog with a recap and link to the podcast.

Listen Here:

If you are having trouble using this media player, listen on our website.

The MACo Way In Ways & Means

On Thursday, MACo Legislative Committee members and staff briefed the Ways and Means Committee on priorities for the 2018 session.

Talbot County Council Member Laura Price discussed the importance of funding local infrastructure and the effects highway user revenue cuts have had on her county.

MACo Legislative Committee and Education Subcommittee Chair Craig Rice, Montgomery County Council Member, was greeted warmly as a former member of the committee. He discussed strong and smart school construction funding and his work and thoughts from representing MACo on the Kirwan Commission.

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick discussed the problems with the Governor’s proposals to shift costs of the State Department of Assessments and Taxation onto the counties. MACo Executive Director rounded out the presentation by discussing tax reform effects.

At the end of the hearing, Vice Chair Frank Turner indicated sympathy for counties for enduring highway user revenue cuts for as long as they have. He indicated that something should be done to restore the revenues to local governments.

Recycling Programs Struggle In Harsh Marketplace

Delmarva Now article (2018-01-31) explored the challenges Delaware’s recycling program has been going through based on recent restrictions China has placed on imported recycled waste, a very weak United States recyclable commodities market, and low oil prices providing for cheap new plastic. These challenges are being felt by many local government recycling programs throughout the US and has forced some jurisdictions to cut back on recycling or send potentially recyclable waste to landfills. From the article:

California has, in the past two years, sent over two billion soda cans to landfills – after the state refunded a nickel per container deposit. The state generates about 8 billion cans annually. …

In Washington, D.C., for example, the city last year paid a waste firm nearly $1.4 million to accept recyclables collected at residential curbsides.

By contrast, in 2011, the city actually made $550,000 from its recycling program. …

The bottom line in 2018: Collecting and processing recyclable materials by local governments has gone from a revenue producer to a significant cost.

The article noted an analysis of Delaware’s waste stream found that aluminum is the most valuable commodity, followed by ferrous metals (iron and steel), plastic, cardboard and paper, and finally glass (which has almost no value). The article stated that Santa Fe, New Mexico, has joined with other cities in no longer recycling glass.

The article also discussed issues of material contamination, food waste recycling, and waste diversion.

Maglev Zooming Forward

Today at the briefing in front of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn announced that The Northeast Maglev has whittled down its list of eligible, potential alignments to two: one alignment just west of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, and one just east. The Secretary indicated that the preferred alignment at this point was the one to the east, which minimized impacts on residential property.

From the project website:

The Preliminary Alternatives Screening Analysis evaluated and eliminated certain alternatives based on Engineering Constraints (fatal flaws) and Environmental and Constructability Constraints. Based on this analysis and as presented at the October 2017 Open Houses, four alternative alignments are being recommended for detailed study (Three Build & No-Build), including:

•  No-Build Alternative

•  Alternative E1 (Amtrak Modified)

•  Alternative J (BWP Modified-East)

•  Alternative J1 (BWP Modified-West)

•  Alternative E1 has most recently been eliminated

Leadership for the project answered an arsenal of questions from committee members about project costs, impacts on neighborhoods, estimated costs to passengers, and plans for future community outreach. Delegate Anne Healey asked why the project planners had not engaged more with local government transportation departments. Project representatives indicated that they had invited all relevant county transportation departments to engage, and received responses from some but not all of them.

Trump’s Infrastructure Plan: Direct Line To Locals?

The folks in this room turn dirt faster than anybody in America.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landreiu said this of local governments, when pushing the Federal government to directly fund locals through a federal infrastructure package.  Local governments will have the opportunity to apply directly for funds under the Administration’s yet-to-be-released plan, stated D.J. Gribbin, a special assistant to President Trump on infrastructure.

Governing reports:

Gribbin said the White House would release a detailed set of principles a week or two after the State of the Union speech on Tuesday, although the administration has missed several self-imposed deadlines so far.

The administration’s two main goals are to increase spending on government-owned infrastructure by $1 billion and to reduce the time it takes to get federal approval for major projects to two years. The plan won’t include any new revenue, but Gribbin said Trump would not stand in the way of a gas tax hike.

Gribbin said that the plan includes redirecting money supporting Amtrak.

Significant match requirements will be included in the plan. Governing reports that the Administration’s plan requires local governments to fund 80 percent of projects, in order to receive a 20 percent match in federal funds. In contrast, current projects receiving Federal Highway funds require a 20 percent match of state or local funds.

Presidential Advisor: No New Infrastructure Revenues

On Thursday, DJ Gribbin, a special advisor to President Donald Trump on infrastructure, told a group of mayors that the President’s infrastructure plan would not identify new revenues to pay for infrastructure costs or cut any mainstay programs, reports Route Fifty.  Details on the plan are expected a couple of weeks after the President delivers his State of the Union address next week. From that coverage:

“Our infrastructure proposal, when we introduce it, will not include new revenue,” Gribbin said during a panel at the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting.

He noted that the administration does not support, or oppose, an increase to the federal gas tax, and that the White House  believes decisions about direct federal funding for the plan need to be made collectively with the House and the Senate.

The plan is anticipated to center around shortening federal permitting processes and incentivizing greater private sector investment.

Secretary Rahn Talks Transportation to Southern Maryland Tri-County Council

Members of the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland heard about state and local transportation initiatives from Maryland Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn at the Council’s annual meeting and dinner in Annapolis on January 25, 2018. Governor Larry Hogan also dropped by for the Council’s pre-meeting social reception.

Rahn opened his remarks by discussing his agricultural experiences on his wife’s family cattle ranch in New Mexico. He then focused on statewide transportation issues.

“Statewide, we are attempting to address congestion that we know within the state is impacting people’s quality of life,” Rahn stated, “We have a problem getting around.” Rahn noted that congestion limited the attractiveness to business and offered some of the projects the Department of Transportation was working on to address the problem, including:

  • Entering into public-private partnerships to create express toll lanes;
  • Enhancing the 695 and 495 beltways and adjacent feeder roads; and
  • Creating a “smart” linked traffic signal system to better manage traffic through heavily traveled corridors.
Secretary Rahn at Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland

Rahn noted that each “smart” intersection would cost around $1 million, far less than traditional traffic flow improvements like overpasses. Rahn stated Indian Head Highway will be one of the first areas to be upgraded with the new technology.

Rahn also stressed the importance of making safety improvements statewide. He explained the 4 “e’s” of highway safety: (1) engineering; (2) education; (3) enforcement; and (4) emergency medical services.

Rahn also discussed the MDOT’s legislative package, which includes: (1) increased penalties for drunk drivers; (2) altering identification standards for driver license applications and renewals; (3) issuance of permanent rather than annual disability placards; and (4) aligning Maryland law with federal law regarding auto transporters.

Finally, Rahn discussed to key Southern Maryland transportation initiatives: the Harry Nice Bridge (which connects Maryland and Virginia) and the Thomas Johnson Bridge (which connects Calvert and St. Mary’s Counties). Rahn stated that the State was on track to enter the design/build phase for a new Nice Bridge in late 2018. Rahn noted the significant cooperation from Virginia, including Virginia’s agreement to provide right of ways and pay for connections on the Virginia side of the bridge. Rahn believed a draft design would be selected in early 2019, with construction beginning in 2020 and the new bridge being open to traffic in 2023. Regarding the Thomas Johnson Bridge, Rahn stated that a $1 million economic value study will begin later this year to determine how to best address the issue.