In the last week of the Maryland General Assembly, both the Maryland House and Senate narrowly voted to override Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of legislation (HB 1013), dubbed the “Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016,” establishing new measures by which the Department of Transportation (MDOT) is required to score future major capital projects. SMTA has long been a vocal advocate for using objective performance criteria to evaluate and make funding decisions on major transportation projects across all modes. However, we testified against this bill for several reasons. Most importantly, the particular standards and performance metrics that were originally included in the bill were badly flawed, arbitrary and did not even address the number-one issue to Maryland voters when it comes to transportation — traffic congestion.
Second, the state already uses a wide range of transportation performance standards for use in making funding and prioritization decisions, and has an extremely transparent process in which County priority letters are posted online, along with information on every major project, and MDOT officials come out to a series of public meetings in all 24 local jurisdictions, known as the annual “road show,” to go over their draft capital program, and solicit input and feedback from local officials and the public before the plan is finalized (and also available online for anyone to see). This bill was meant to address a problem that does not exist, in our view at least.
For MDOT to develop standards, based on knowledgeable input from transportation professionals, with lots of public input along the way, is one thing. For the General Assembly to legislate arbitrary standards that make no sense to transportation experts or voters, we thought would be counterproductive. MDOT officials and Governor Hogan agreed with that assessment but the General Assembly did not.
The good news is, the legislation was significantly amended to address the most glaring flaws in the standards, and the Department now has more flexibility in implementing this new mandate. The bad news is, the legislature made the mistake of overriding a veto it should have let stand. This bill was not needed in the first place, was extremely poorly drafted initially, and will end up costing taxpayers for lots of extra work by MDOT staff that will not produce any significant improvement in either transparency or performance.