Friday, February 10, 2017

Roadkill and Transportation Scoring

All the talk about crumbling roads and bridges notwithstanding, Maryland residents find smooth highways and byways with wide shoulders pretty much all across the State, especially outside urban areas. How much that is still true becomes quickly evident when one crosses into Pennsylvania where many back-roads are curvy, have blind-spots, humps and frequently no shoulders. How smooth rural roads are becomes also obvious if one enters Baltimore City where many roads and bridges are truly falling apart.
10% of the budget go to transportation

Not without reason. Maryland spends a larger portion of its overall budget on transportation than Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware or New Jersey; more than 10% or more than $2 billion in capital funds. Failing pipe infrastructure that is 100 years old forces Baltimore to dig streets up so often that they resemble moonscapes.

After the Governor redirected funds originally set aside for the Baltimore Red Line to road construction on the eastern shore and Garrett County many Baltimore are residents asked themselves, what exactly are the criteria under which transportation dollars are spent? The answer is not as rational as one would expect in a time of scarce dollars. Expenditure is far less based on needs than on politics and a desire to spread the goods around. For many local politicians, bringing home the bacon means bringing road money into his district.

Baltimore-based Delegate Brooke Lierman co-sponsored bill 1013 introduced by Delegate Pamela Beidle in 2016. It included scoring measures intended to make transportation spending more rational. (the Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016). The bill introduces metrics such as

  • Increased facility life span
  • Change in travel time reliability
  • Mode connections and choices
  • Economic development
  • Travel time savings
  • Leverage of additional investment
  • "Complete Street"

The Hogan administration explaining how the scoring bill kills road projects
Even though the bill stands in a long tradition of similar attempts created by Republicans and Democrats alike, with the closest example right in neighboring Virginia, Maryland's Governor sank his teeth into this bill with fervor. He began dubbing it "the road kill bill" and vetoed it after it initially passed. The veto was quickly overridden by the Democrats.
Now in the 2017 session the Hogan Administration has introduced an "emergency bill", HB402 to repeal the scoring requirements:
Repealing specified State transportation goals; repealing a requirement that the Department of Transportation score the extent to which specified transportation projects satisfy the goals; repealing a requirement that the Department develop a specified scoring system and promulgate specified regulations; repealing a requirement that the Department, in accordance with the specified scoring system, rank major transportation projects for inclusion in the draft and final Consolidated Transportation Program; etc.(HB 402)
The fight seems even more irrational than the transportation expenditures themselves, since the bill wouldn't have the teeth to stop a single project. The Governor is using the bill to cement a populist narrative in which urban liberals are trying to take rural roads away, especially for transit. The reality was exactly the opposite: when Hogan took nearly $3 billion off the table that had been set aside for Baltimore City and County to build the Red Line. (About $700 of which would have been State funds that were re-assigned). The state’s highest-ranking legal officer, the attorney general, says Hogan’s “Rogue One” interpretation of the law is pure science fiction.
A map created by the Baltimore Transportation Equity Coalition
showing the spread of yellow expenditures for roads 

The narrative of urban versus rural mirrors the election results for Hogan and the recent presidential election. It feeds the false notion that large dysfunctional metro conglomerations like Baltimore City and County are feeding off the rural hinterlands that have to fight for the crumbs that are left.

That narrative has nothing to do with reality. The Baltimore metro area alone makes up about 50% of the State's population, add in the urban areas of Maryland around DC (Montgomery and PG with about a million residents each), and one can get easily to about 75% of the State's population living in urban areas even if one discounts the rural portions of the counties located in the metro areas). No matter how one calculates the revenues (via income taxes, gas taxes or Vehicle Miles Traveled - VMT) the urbanized areas put more into the budget than they take out while they bear the brunt of the dysfunction of the current spending priorities: Congestion, air pollution, long commute times, decrepit roads and insufficient transit.
Activist's flysheet about the scoring process (source: 1000 Friends of MD, CMTA)

Maryland's transportation scoring bill has its weaknesses, some of the metrics are poorly defined or hard to measure, and the sponsor herself says "its just a score", meaning it doesn't bind the administration's hands. It was Republican President George Bush, senior, who inaugurated the Intermodal Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) in 1991, a landmark national transportation bill that stressed intermodal connection, allowed transportation enhancement funds to go to trails and bike-ways to promote alternative transportation. ISTEA also required to look at the effects that transportation has on air quality and included Major Investment Studies as a way to ensure that alternatives are compared and evaluated and criteria for projects are met before they get build.   The bill did not prevent Sarah Palin's Alaskan "bridge to nowhere" but has brought at least some reasonable deliberation to federal transportation spending in America.

The time when transportation projects are simply funded because they are wanted by a political buddy should be over. Too many competing needs for money make it almost immoral to widen perfectly fine roads in rural Garret County devoid of traffic for political reasons while urgent needs in dense areas remain unmet.  The new Administration in Washington has threatened to remove some of that progress from their own brand of transportation policy. Governor Hogan should not fan the flames of populist divisiveness. The scoring bill is not a "road kill bill" and he knows it.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
updated

Transportation for America's article about the Maryland road bill fight
Detailed Republican critique on the scoring bill by Robert Flanigan
Hogan vows to repeal the Road Kill Bill (Baltimore SUN) Dec 2016
Rascovar: Hogan's Hoax
Recommendations for Better Project Scoring (Suggestions for each of the scoring metrics)


A fake news release making fun of the Road Kill bill discussion that was circulated yesterday:

For Immediate ReleaseFebruary 9, 2017Contact: Sean Emerson(301) 858-3649Marc.Korman@house.state.md.us
LEGISLATORS INTRODUCE ROADKILL BILL OF 2017
Bill Would Ensure Roadkill Is Peeled Off Of State Highways
Delegate Marc Korman and 32 other Delegates today introduced The Roadkill Bill of 2017.  Following Governor Hogan’s 2017 State of the State Address,[1] in which he asked legislators to address the roadkill issue, legislators have introduced this timely proposal.  Because it does not include mandated spending, cannot be mischaracterized as a tax, has a catchy name, polls well, is unopposed by big business, and is unrelated to Donald Trump, it is expected that the Administration will not show up to testify and allow the bill to become law.
“I agree with Governor Hogan that road kill wreaks havoc on our entire transportation system.[2]  Like him, I believe it is important we peel the roadkill off our state highways (I may have misheard him),” said Delegate Korman.
Existing state law[3] requires the State Highway Administration to remove “any animal carcass that will impede traffic or substantially endanger the safety of the traveling public.”  The Roadkill Bill of 2017 would require the Administration to consult with interested parties and adopt timely and comprehensive regulations to establish an accessible process for citizens to report roadkill on state highways.
“I agree with Governor Hogan that roadkill is a scourge in our state,” stated Delegate Andrew Platt, the top co-sponsor on the bill.  “Indeed, this bipartisan issue unites rural Maryland, urban Maryland, and suburban Maryland.  When it comes to roadkill, we are one Maryland.”
The bill will be referred to the Environment and Transportation Committee where it will be the subject of a hearing.