Federal Railroad Decides How To Replace B&P Tunnel

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has picked its top choice of options for replacing the Baltimore and Potomac (B&P) Tunnel in West Baltimore. The existing tunnel, regarded as a problematic bottleneck for Amtrak and commercial rail traffic along the Northeast Corridor, would be replaced by four new single track tunnels. The project is anticipated to cost $4.52 billion.

The selected alignment would:

  • create a 3.67-mile stretch of rail sweeping in a west-to-east arc from  the West Baltimore MARC Station to Penn Station;
  • include a new rail bridge over Mulberry and Franklin streets and an open-cut section that transitions into a southern tunnel portal west of Payson Street between Riggs Avenue and Mosher Street;
  • include three new ventilation facilities;
  • require 22 residential buildings to be demolished, 15 of which are now occupied; and
  • displace 13 businesses and four places of worship in the Bridgeview/Greenlawn, Midtown-Edmondson and Reservoir Hill neighborhoods.
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The FRA has selected Alternative 3B (blue line above) as its preferred option for B&P Tunnel replacement.

From The Baltimore Sun

No funding source has been identified. Still, the conclusion of the three-year, federally funded engineering and environmental study — announced Friday [March 31] — was a necessary step before any large-scale project to replace the Amtrak-owned tunnel could get underway, and pushes the proposed project one step closer to reality. …

Replacing the tunnel, which is between the West Baltimore MARC station and Penn Station, has been a priority for Amtrak for years. While it is considered safe, it’s unreliable, requires frequent maintenance and slows traffic along the nation’s busiest rail corridor on a daily basis.

The new tunnel system would eliminate the current tunnel’s sharp curves and allow Amtrak and MARC trains to travel at higher speeds under the city. It also would ease movement of commercial freight along the line, though the limitations of the existing tunnel already have pushed freight companies to find alternate routes through the region.

Federal officials say the replacement of the tunnel will “promote the long-term economic success of the city and surrounding region.”

From www.bptunnel.com:

The Baltimore and Potomac (B&P) Tunnel is a two-track railroad tunnel underneath central Baltimore City. The tunnel opened in 1873 and is located between the West Baltimore MARC Station and Pennsylvania Station along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC). This section of the NEC is used by Amtrak and Maryland’s MARC Commuter Rail passenger trains, as well as Norfolk Southern Railway freight trains.  The B&P Tunnel is owned by Amtrak and should not be confused with the Howard Street Tunnel, which is owned by CSX and used solely by CSX freight trains.

Working to improve rail service, reliability and address a longstanding bottleneck along Amtrak’s busy Northeast Corridor (NEC), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Amtrak are advancing an engineering and environmental study to examine various improvements to the 141-year-old Baltimore and Potomac (B&P) Tunnel in Baltimore, Maryland.  MDOT was awarded a grant from FRA to complete the study as part of the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program. As part of the study, FRA will lead development of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in close coordination with MDOT, the public, and other stakeholders.

County-By-County Shares Of Additional Transportation Aid Released

The Department of Legislative Services (DLS) has released the county-by-county breakdown of the $12.8 million in transportation “capital grants” approved in the fiscal 2018 State budget for 23 counties. The General Assembly reduced the Governor’s original proposal of $27.4 million to $12.8 million, which includes $4 million of capital grants which counties have received since fiscal 2016, and $8.8 million in new grants.

The breakdown is available here.

The State distributes the funds according to the traditional highway user revenue formula, half based upon vehicle registrations and half based upon road mileage.

 

FY18 Transportation Grants

The grants are in addition to “traditional” highway user revenues: the statutory formula created by the State in 1968 through which some motorist revenues are distributed to the State, counties, and municipalities. These funds – some motor vehicle fuel taxes, titling taxes, registration fees and some others – are deposited into the Gasoline and Motor Vehicle Revenue Account, an account within the Transportation Trust Fund, and then 1.5 percent is distributed to 23 counties, 0.4 percent is distributed to municipalities, and 7.7 percent is distributed to Baltimore City.

hur-snapshot
Source: DLS.

For more than forty years, local governments have received at least 30 percent of these revenues to fund local roads and bridges – 83 percent of the public road mileage in Maryland. In 2010, the State reduced highway user revenues by 90 percent for most jurisdictions – and local governments have advocated for restored highway user revenues ever since.

The General Assembly’s action this year to provide counties some relief connotes a small step, but marked improvement over prior years.

Useful Links

County-by-county Breakdown

Operating Budget Finalized: $8.8m in New Highway User, SDAT Cost Shift Dead

Highway User Revenues – What’s On The Table?

Counties Call For A Local Infrastructure Fast Track

 

Broadband Network Expansion Possible on Eastern Shore

Screenshot 2017-04-03 17.20.50

With Kent County, Maryland providing their citizens and businesses with high speed broadband, now Queen Anne’s County Commissioners will be holding a public hearing on bringing broadband to their county as reported by Queen Anne’s County.

From Queen Anne’s County:

At their March 28 meeting, the commissioners passed a motion to hold a public hearing and move forward with contract negotiations with FTS for design, engineering, construction, operations and maintenance of a fiber optic broadband network in Queen Anne’s County. A date has not yet been set for the public hearing.

FTS Fiber is a dark fiber provider offering carrier-class network infrastructure in both rural areas and major markets of the United States. FTS has two office locations in Maryland.

Kent County’s fiber program, a public/private partnership with FTS, won a MACo Best Practices Award in 2016.

For more information about Queen Anne’s County and broadband, see the Queen Anne’s County website.

Hear a Federal Legislative Update for Counties

The National Association of Counties represents the country’s 3,069 counties on Capitol Hill.

The National Association of Counties (NACo) will be hosting a conference call on Tuesday, April 4 at 3 p.m. EDT to discuss federal policy issues facing county governments.

 

To join the call:

Dial Number: 1-719-955-1371

Enter Passcode: 605299

With all the developments on Capitol Hill, the National Association of Counties (NACo) is hosting a national conference call tomorrow, Tuesday, April 4 at 3 p.m. EDT to discuss the most pressing federal policy issues facing county governments.

During the call, NACo will provide updates on issues including:

  • Health care legislation
  • Tax reform efforts
  • Infrastructure
  • President Trump’s FY 2018 budget request and the annual appropriations process

 

Maryland county government officials are welcome to join the call.

Update: the call contents have been archived, and are now available on the NAco website.

Locals Unite In Concern Over Water Bill Collections Restriction

The Senate Budget & Taxation Committee heard House Bill 453, Tax Sales – Water Liens – Moratorium. MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick testified in opposition along with Candace Donoho, Director of Government Relations for the Maryland Municipal League; Brynja Booth, Esquire, Booth, Booth, Cropper & Marriner; Mary Pat Fannon, Senior Policy Advisor, Mayor’s Office, Baltimore City; Maria DeChellis, PMP, Chief, Customer Support & Services, Baltimore City Department of Public Works; and Bruce Bereano, Law Office of Bruce Bereano. Booth represented the towns of Greensboro, Goldsboro, Oxford, Federalsburg, Trappe, and Queenstown, and Bereano represented Queen Anne’s and Washington counties, and Bowie and Annapolis.

As passed by the House, the bill would impose a moratorium on using tax sales to collect water and sewer liens for one year. Opponents testified that this removes an essential collections tool from local governments and would likely result in local governments having to raise rates on timely paying customers to cover costs to operate water and sewer systems. DeChellis answered questions specific to Baltimore City customers, and addressed questions about collections on water bills in other states. The panel also responded to questions to clarify that no tax sales had been identified which caused the loss of any occupied home in recent years; proponents’ comments that people were “losing their homes” due to unpaid water bills was purely myth.

From MACo’s testimony:

This bill unjustly alleviates delinquent account holders from responsibility for funding key infrastructure, at the expense of timely paying customers. Counties often budget for water and wastewater systems using enterprise funds, meaning that they recover costs for services almost primarily through user fees. They must meet their obligations to maintain their systems – so when they cannot collect on delinquent accounts, they must either cut service or raise rates on all other users to recover the lost funds. While this bill nobly seeks to accommodate customers in need, the result unjustly reassigns infrastructure costs to those who opt to timely pay. …

HB 659, Task Force to Study Tax Sales in Maryland, which this Committee heard earlier this week, has been amended by the House to require the Task Force to “evaluate tax sales to collect delinquent water charges and alternative methods of collecting delinquent water charges” as part of its charge to study the tax sale process. (Crossfile SB 823 had its hearing in this Committee on March 8, and passed Third Reader last week.) Counties are more than willing to participate in this effort. However, placing a moratorium on the use of tax sale to collect on utility liens prior to the Task Force conducting its work is premature. More importantly, in addition to severely limiting local governments’ abilities to sustain fiscally viable utility services for the entire year, it also compromises the Task Force’s access to timely, reliable data on the use of tax sale to enforce utility liens. The Task Force cannot effectively study an activity that the General Assembly has already prohibited.

The bill is now in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, and if that Committee votes it out favorably, it will go to the Senate floor and likely become law. Concerned readers are encouraged to contact their senators in opposition to the bill.

The Case For Infrastructure Investment, Made Through Maps

Esri has released the informative “story map,” A Nation Derailed: How America’s transportation infrastructure fell into disrepair—and why we need to fix it, quick. Building upon the recently released Infrastructure Report Card by the American Society of Civil Engineers, as well as popular campaign rhetoric by President Trump, Esri tells the story of America’s needs to invest in roads, bridges, railways, ports, and airports.

From the report:

America’s vast transportation infrastructure is one of the nation’s most impressive modern achievements. This sprawling network of roads, bridges, railways, ports, waterways, and airports stretches from sea to sea, enabling the rapid distribution of people, goods, services, and even ideas throughout the country and beyond. It is the connective tissue that physically unites the nation, and it’s critical for the prosperity of the American economy.

We often consider transportation infrastructure within the context of our personal lives—commuting to work on the Interstate, for example, or flying home for the holidays. But the primary purpose of America’s transportation infrastructure is to facilitate the movement of materials and manufactured products. The U.S. freight system moves roughly 55 million tons of goods—worth just under $50 billion—every single day.

The highlight of the report is the series of visually pleasing interactive maps providing a significant amount of detailed data.

 

Operating Budget Finalized: $8.8m in New Highway User, SDAT Cost Shift Dead

The General Assembly is passing House Bill 150, the Budget Bill and the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2017 (BRFA) in what could be record time this session – this morning, both chambers approved the Conference Committee report, when the Conference Committee was only just appointed last Friday. Of importance to counties:

SDAT Cost Shift Officially Dead 

Both the Senate and House budget subcommittees voted to reject the Governor’s proposal to make counties responsible for nearly all operating costs for the assessment and directorial functions of the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) – 70 percent in fiscal 2018, and 90 percent for every year thereafter. The Conference Committee did not overturn those decisions, taking this cost shift officially off the table for good.

Highway User: More Than Last Year, But Less Than Proposed

The Conference Committee adopted the Senate’s position to reduce the Governor’s proposal to provide transportation capital grants to counties. Counties’ share was reduced from $27.4 million to $12.8 million.  This includes $4 million of capital grants which counties have received since fiscal 2016. Baltimore City’s share was maintained at $5.5 million, and municipalities’ share remains at $20.1 million. Bottom line: 23 counties will receive $8.8 million in additional local transportation aid from last year.

In addition, for FY18 only, “highway user revenues distributed to Baltimore City may be used to pay or finance students’ costs of discounted Maryland Transit Administration fares for eligible public school students in Baltimore City.”

FY18 Transportation Grants
Transportation grants are in addition to the formulaic highway user revenue distributions.

New Statutory Language Restricts Local Transportation Aid

In response to concerns expressed by the Department of Legislative Services (DLS) regarding the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT)’s programming of local transportation aid, the Conference Committee adopted BRFA language prohibiting MDOT from programming capital transportation grants to local governments in the Consolidated Transportation Program (CTP) beyond the budget request year.  The new language is intended to address concerns expressed by DLS that the Governor’s “capital grants” are titled incorrectly and programmed inappropriately in out years. It states:

Except as authorized by law, the Consolidated Transportation Program may not include capital transportation grants to counties or municipal corporations for any period beyond the budget request year ….

For the period beyond the budget request year, the financial forecast:

  1. Shall maximize the use of funds for the capital program; and
  2. Except as authorized by law, may not withhold or reserve funds for capital transportation grants to counties or municipal corporations.

Disparity Grants Restored, Then Cut $2.4 Million

The Governor’s budget funded disparity grants at fiscal 2017 levels. The Conference Committee rejected that flat funding provision, but also reduced the minimum grant amount from 67.5% to 63.75% of the disparity grant calculation provided in fiscal 2018 only. This reduces the total disparity grant amounts under the statutory formula for fiscal 2018 by $2.4 million.

The Conference Committee also adopted the Senate’s proposal to restrict funding for disparity grants for jurisdictions receiving an increase until the Maryland State Department of Education certifies that each jurisdiction has increased local spending on public schools above the Maintenance of Effort (MOE). The Conference Committee specified, however, that increased allocations to public schools under this language will not increase MOE requirements in fiscal 2019. The report language is available here.

Relieved From Mandate Relief 

Both chambers agreed to strike the Governor’s “mandate relief” proposal, which would have capped the growth of most formulaic appropriations at projected general fund revenue growth, less 1.0%.

MACo will provide additional information as it becomes available.

Conference Committee Summary Report

Conference Committee Full Report: Budget Bill

Cecil County Executive McCarthy Streamlines Land Use and Development Services

Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy recently announced that services delivered in three different departments will be combined and housed under one new department, to be called the Department of Land Use and Development Services.

According to the county press release,

In accordance with this reorganization and consolidation, services provided by Planning & Zoning, Permits & Inspections and the plans review function of the Department of Public Works will all be combined as divisions within the new Department of Land Use and Development Services.

Dr. McCarthy states, “This reorganization will result in greater efficiency with the plans review and permitting processes by bringing all employees that administer this function together in one place.”

Currently, depending upon the type and approval phase of a construction project, constituents must conduct business in three different county offices.  Feedback provided by developers and construction companies strongly suggest that this consolidation and reorganization will streamline and simplify the development process, and be generally well received.

There are efficiencies realized through this new organization resulting in a reduction of one current position and the reclassification of some existing positions.  It is expected that further efficiencies resulting in increased savings will occur as this new organization plan is evaluated.  It is expected that the Department of Land Use and Developmental Services will be fully operational on or about May 1, 2017.

U.S. Infrastructure Gets “D+”; 24% of MD Roads In Poor Condition

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has graded the U.S.’s infrastructure with a D+, estimating that it would take an additional $2 trillion by 2025 to bring that grade to a B. The Infrastructure Report Card is one of the most frequently cited reports on the condition of infrastructure in the country. The U.S. has either received a D or D+ in every Report Card issued since 1998.

Information on Infrastructure in Maryland is available here. Key facts include:

  • 5.80% (308) of the bridges are structurally deficient
  • 82 high hazard dams
  • $6.9 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs over the next 20 years
  • $9.92 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs over the next 20 years
  • 154,507,328 annual unlinked passenger trips via transit systems including bus, transit, and commuter trains
  • 32,037 miles of public roads, with 24% in poor condition
  • $550 per motorist per year in costs from driving on roads in need of repair

The ASCE Maryland Chapter also issues a Report Card for Maryland’s Infrastructure, last updated in 2011.

From Governing: 

But it’s not all bad news: Some types of infrastructure have somewhat improved.

Rail, for example, went from a “C+” to a “B,” the highest grade for any type of infrastructure. That largely reflects the health of private freight railroads, which spent $27.1 billion to improve their infrastructure in 2015 alone, according to ASCE.

Other areas that showed progress in the report were hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, ports, schools and wastewater.

Meanwhile, transit systems earned the lowest mark in the report card, falling to a “D-” from its previous “D” grade. “Despite increasing demand, the nation’s transit systems have been chronically underfunded, resulting in aging infrastructure and a $90 billion rehabilitation backlog,” the group noted. Several systems — particularly those in New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco — are struggling with increased rider demand, long-neglected infrastructure and uncertain funding.

Solid waste infrastructure, along with parks and other recreational facilities, also got worse. …

“In many parts of the country,” the group wrote, “recycling and composting are not occurring due to a lack of market need for recyclable materials, many Americans’ lack of desire to sort and separate waste, and the cost associated with sorting out recyclables at collection facilities.”

MACo has prioritized investment in local infrastructure as one of its core initiatives this session. Learn more about the initiative here and on Conduit Street at Local Infrastructure Fast Track (LIFT4MD).

To support local infrastructure investment in Maryland, Let your senators know you support SB 586 – Local Infrastructure Fast Track for Maryland Act, and
let your delegates know you support HB 1322 – Local Infrastructure Fast Track for Maryland Act!

U.S. House Transportation Chair on Infrastructure Funding: Get Shovels to the Ground, Fast

The U.S. House Transportation Committee Chair recently suggested that states that can move projects ahead quickly will have an advantage when it comes to benefiting from any federal infrastructure funds in the coming months.

According the the Route Fifty article,

If a major infrastructure package takes shape, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said a message for states would be: “you’ve got to get those dollars to shovels in the ground, fast.”

President Trump has called for a $1 trillion plan to direct public and private investment toward upgrading infrastructure assets around the U.S., such as roads, railways and airports.

Responding to a question about how to get money for new infrastructure investment distributed swiftly to help spur job growth—a priority for Trump—he replied: “Part of that mechanism we have to put in place is to reward states that are going to move very quickly.”

“We’ve got to get something done before next spring,” Shuster added, “whether it’s taxes, Obamacare, or health care reform, or infrastructure spending. Because the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate, they’re going to be on the line.”

Shuster said his hope is to have an infrastructure bill by this fall.