- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Once again, the county’s transportation priorities include a new Gov. Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge and the continuation of the widening of Route 2/4 in Prince Frederick, though state officials offer a grim outlook on the prospect of funding.
On Tuesday, county staff and the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners presented staff from the Maryland Department of Transportation and Maryland State Highway Administration with the regional transportation priorities as well as the county’s transportation priorities. The priorities will be forwarded via letter to the Tri-County Council of Southern Maryland, MDOT and county delegation.
“We have been extremely consistent,” Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) said of the county and regional priority lists, a sentiment echoed by the other commissioners and staff.
The county is asking the state to fund improvements to accommodate capacity and traffic operations on the bridge, as well as a pedestrian and bicycle lane.
In the county’s project questionnaire for MDOT funding for this project, the county states, “This project is critical to national homeland security as well as safety, security [sic] because it serves a large nuclear power generating facility, a regional natural gas transport facility and a major U.S. Naval base. It is also essential to the safety, security, and efficient transportation of Southern Maryland as it serves more than 30,000 vehicles per day.”
For Route 2/4, the county is requesting the state fund a widening project in Prince Frederick from Industry Lane to north of Auto Drive, creating six lanes with access control, turning movement restrictions and an underpass.
In the county’s project questionnaire for MDOT funding for the highway widening, the county states, “It is imperative that its function be improved as this route is the only north/south arterial highway in the County and serves more than 50,000 vehicles per day.”
The report estimates that daily traffic volume will increase from 48,600 in 2011 to 83,600 by 2030.
Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) said he expects those numbers to change as the project moves forward during the engineering study phase of the project because the traffic through Prince Frederick has “leveled off.”
In addition to those two projects, Shaw and Maureen Hoffman, director of the county’s division of community resources, requested the state look at funding a transit transfer station in the county.
“We have a very growing need to move forward with some type of transit transfer station,” Hoffman said. “Back in the day, we ran our buses by the senior center because that was our first place where people needed transportation. And what’s happening now is the transfer point at the senior center is being overrun with people waiting for route buses and the shuttle, and they’re impinging upon our seniors and the usage of the senior center. We’ve had a lot of problems with drug dealing and vandalism and just like a general inappropriate place for large numbers of people to be waiting all day long, and also because there isn’t a significant shelter there.”
She said the “transfer station” has “become the beast that is going to eat Calvert Pines Senior Center.”
Hoffman said the station would aid in maximizing the use of the commuter bus service.
“We would like this transfer station to really be the central point of helping people without transportation ride our public transportation system to a commuter bus lot, and thereby connect with that very important commuter bus service,” she explained.
Heather Murphy, deputy director of the Office of Planning and Capital Programming at MDOT, said, “It’s very well known … that right now, we are very much underfunded in our Transportation Trust Fund. We have enough money to operate our system, we have enough money to preserve our system right now and that is it.”
She said if anyone were to look in the “outer years” of the MDOT budget, there’s “zero money for expansion,” including money for funding studies for expansion projects.
Murphy explained to the commissioners there is a possibility that MDOT will receive more funding with the Monday introduction of the governor’s Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013 bill.
The bill, if passed, would reduce the state gasoline excise tax by 5 cents from 23.5 cents per gallon to 18.5 cents and then tie it to inflation. In addition, Senate Bill 1054 and House Bill 1514 call for a 4 percent sales tax on the wholesale level to be phased in over two years, beginning in July. According to the bill, a 2 cent sales tax on a gallon of gas would start in July, followed by an additional 7 cents more a year after that. In 2015, the sales tax is expected to be at 6 percent unless Congress passes the Marketplace Equity Act, which would allow states to apply sales tax to Internet sales, thus allowing the transportation fund to receive a percentage of the revenue generated from taxing Internet sales.
MDOT transit fares are also proposed to increase, according to the bill, by tying them to inflation, as well.
A “lockbox” provision would require that any money from the Transportation Trust Fund could not be transferred or diverted to the state’s general fund unless approved by the General Assembly through “legislation passed by a three-fifths majority vote of the full standing committee assigned the legislation” in the House and Senate.
According to a press release from Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) office, the plan will raise an average of $800 million annually and, over the next five years, generate an additional $3.4 billion for Maryland highway and transit projects.