- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
An increase in the state gas tax could mean considerable progress for Charles County’s transportation priorities.
Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles) said Thursday that the county delegation has parlayed its support for the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act — which by July 2016 could raise the price of a gallon of gas by 20 cents — into the inclusion of several major projects in the state’s transportation plan. The bill could hit the Senate floor early next week.
The Maryland Department of Transportation will include in its six-year Consolidated Transportation Program funding to complete studies on a new light-rail line stretching from White Plains to the Branch Avenue Metro station in Marlow Heights, a replacement or expansion of the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge connecting Newburg to King George County, Va., and interchanges at the U.S. 301 intersections at Leonardtown Road and Mattawoman-Beantown Road in Waldorf, per an agreement with Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) administration “as a condition for us voting for the bill,” Middleton said.
Planning alone for the light rail and bridge projects is estimated to cost more than $100 million. Final costs for the projects have not been calculated because needed details are lacking.
Each fall, MDOT tours the state briefing local jurisdictions on the projects that are included in its capital budget. In recent years, none of Charles County’s priorities have made the cut.
“This makes all the difference in the world for Charles County, and I’m immensely grateful to Sen. Middleton and the delegation for their leadership,” commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) said.
She referred to the agreement as a “tipping point” for the light-rail project, which the county has identified as its top transportation priority and the key to driving transit-oriented development in the 300-acre Waldorf Urban Design Area, which stretches along U.S. 301 from Leonardtown Road to Acton Lane.
“We’re really focusing on this big picture, and the only thing that is obstructing that is having this project in the CTP, because once it’s there, it’s real and we’ll have a much better opportunity to attract private developers,” Kelly said.
Commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D) said “we need to continue to ensure that whatever comes out of this bill right now, [that] there will be a direct advantage for Charles County.
“One thing we’ve been is consistent. We’ve presented with clarity our transportation needs and interests, and we’ve done the things the state has needed us to do, and from my perspective, I think we should be highly considered for our transportation needs and goals,” Collins added.
Former county commissioner Gary V. Hodge, who now works as a consultant in step with the county’s transportation goals, said he spoke to O’Malley about the list of priorities last week.
“I thought it was a very encouraging conversation we had,” Hodge said.
“The CTP is the critical tool that is used to bring projects into the formal planning process … to be followed through to construction. That’s the breakthrough point,” he added.
The agreement also includes funding for two projects in Prince George’s County that would benefit local commuters — streamlining the stretch of Route 5 affectionately known as “malfunction junction,” which lies north of its intersection with U.S. 301, and a $100 million overpass at the Fort Washington intersection of Indian Head Highway and Kerby Hill Road, Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) said.
In addition, beginning in October, the Maryland Transit Administration will add 10 coaches to its commuter bus routes in Charles County to help alleviate overcrowding, Wilson said.
For months commuters have complained of riders being left behindd at park and ride lots, along with inconsistent arrival and departure times.
Public meetings on the light-rail project also would start “immediately,” Middleton said.
“We want to see some boots on the ground,” Middleton said. “We want people to know, yes you are going to see an increase in gas prices, but we want them to know that we are serious about these projects.”
Wilson called the gas tax “by far one of the toughest votes I ever had to make,” but pointed out that the bill, which passed the House of Delegates last Friday by a vote of 76-63, would have made it to the Senate with or without the support of the county’s three delegates.
“We sat down and tried to parlay what we could get out of it. It was going to pass without our votes,” Wilson said. “This was a way to ensure that we’re getting something out of the gas tax and not merely paying.”
Wilson said the 3.8-cent increase would equate to $26 a year in added cost for the average commuter. Under the bill, the gas tax could go up by as much as 20 cents per gallon by July 2016, but Wilson said that lawmakers will have the chance to rescind the legislation if the impact on motorists is determined to be too great.
“The Maryland Department of Transportation has been working with senators and delegates statewide to ensure we are all on the same page with what top transportation priorities could move forward if the Transportation Investment Act passes. Our goal is to be ready to hit the ground running and make smart investments that will create transportation jobs, reduce congestion and keep Maryland’s economy moving on the fast track,” MDOT spokeswoman Erin Henson said in an email. “The reality remains that without HB1515 passing this session, no new transportation projects can be added and some existing projects will stop dead in their tracks.”