The 2019 Maryland legislature is heading home without enacting any legislation that requires the Governor or the Maryland Department of Transportation to change their plans on adding managed toll lanes to I-495 and I-270. It is disappointing to be sure, and further down I’ll share my thoughts on why that happened.
But while the legislative session is over, this fight is not. There are still eighteen months of preliminary assessments and process MDOT must follow before it can even make a formal decision, let alone move the first shovelful of dirt. So we’ll take stock of what we’ve done, what’s to come, and get our battle plans ready.
Most immediate is that MDOT has scheduled a new round of public workshopson the plan and the narrowed list of alternatives. One of the workshops will be at Wootton High School on Thursday, April 25th at 6:30 pm (and repeated at 7:30 pm). If you can’t make that one, just check the MDOT website for the other dates and locations.
Next, Governor Hogan may soon attempt to get approval from the Board of Public Works to hire contractors to work on the project. The Board consists of Governor Hogan, Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot. Treasurer Kopp recently testified in support of additional oversight of these kinds of projects, so hopefully she will oppose barging ahead with a contract. We don’t know where Peter Franchot stands.
Now, going back to the Legislative session, here’s my take: We did well this legislative session. Not well enough, since we didn’t get anything enacted. But we went from 0 to 60 on the issue in a few short months. We put the concerns about this project and broader concerns about how Maryland does its transportation planning on the radar for lawmakers, the media and a lot of citizens.
Coming out of the session, we have a much bigger coalition working with us now –neighborhood-based groups like Citizens Against Beltway Expansion, transit groups like Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition, the League of Women Voters and a number of organizations in the environmental community like the Maryland Sierra Club and Preservation Maryland.
Plus, we have made this a much hotter issue for a lot of legislators. Delegate Kumar Barve eventually saw how vital this issue is to his District, many elected officials from Montgomery County have become actively engaged and we started to make some headway in the Senate. And through our coalition we have begun finding allies in other counties as well.
In the end, after hearing from an overwhelming number of you, Delegate Barve used his influence to move a bill out of his Committee and through the House: Delegate Jared Solomon’s HB 1091, which would have created basic oversight for privately-financed transportation projects to protect taxpayers, the environment and the State’s fiscal health. We also got an advisory amendment attached to the State budget. These don’t solve our problem, but they are evidence that we have begun building support where it counts.
However, we have work to do in the Senate. Ultimately, Senator Nancy King, who represents Montgomery County’s District 39 and chairs the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, killed HB 1091. Senator King told Maryland Mattersthat she trusts MDOT Secretary Pete Rahn and didn’t want to delay traffic relief, and so decided to keep HB 1091 bottled up in her committee (notwithstanding that there were enough votes from members of her committee to move the bill forward.)
We must urge all the lawmakers to continue working on this issue before the next session of the General Assembly and to be prepared to enact legislation as soon as the General Assembly reconvenes in January 2020. This issue is too important for our champions to leave until the 2nd half of the session. They need to hear the message that protecting our homes and neighborhoods must be the top priority as soon as the next session is gaveled in. You can help by reminding them of this, whenever you can – by email, phone calls, and if you see them at public events.
Finally, we never had much of a chance to celebrate the massive turnout at the March 9th meeting. I wanted to end on this because that day carried enormous influence – with Delegate Barve and other leaders. (If you have pictures you’d like to share, we now have a Facebook album of the event to go with the video.)
We’re going to have to keep doing things like this – and bigger – in order to win. And to the many, many people who volunteered time, donated money and found other ways to help – thank you and … we’ll need more of all that in the coming months.
We will continue to keep you informed on important issues and how you can help.