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Commissioners ‘don’t see the purpose’

By AMANDA HARRISON

Staff writer

Calvert County commissioners expressed opposition and some confusion Tuesday to a new federal designation that would combine Lexington Park and southern portions of Calvert County to create a Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The U.S. Department of Transportation and Maryland Department of Transit gave a presentation to the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners about what it means to be an MPO and what it may be able to do for St. Mary’s and Calvert counties.

“Where did the decision come from that there needed to be an [MPO] in this area?” Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) asked. “It looks like to me, from this map, the [U.S. Census Bureau] really had to go out and bring in different areas and designate different areas ... to come up with the number of populations to create this.”

Clark went on to say that “somebody somewhere had them do this” at the census. “I’m not opposed to it if it brings us something of some substance, but I don’t see where it’s bringing us anything of substance.”

The MPO, which encompasses portions of Lusby, including the Chesapeake Ranch Estates and Drum Point, and Solomons in Calvert County and some of Lexington Park in St. Mary’s County, is based on 2010 U.S. Census data, which shows the area meets the population criteria of 57,000.

“It’s very odd how it’s shaped,” Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) said. “It leaves out certain areas. It’s been drawn to capture the high population areas. ... It looks exactly like a gerrymandered legislative district.”

Harland Miller, from the U.S. Department of Transportation, explained to the BOCC that an MPO is focused on regional transportation planning.

An MPO is a locally-governed entity with a board of representative local governmental officials who lead the transportation planning process for that designated MPO area, according to the presentation. It will also function as the region’s policy making organization responsible for prioritizing transportation initiatives. Supporting the MPO, according to the presentation, are technical staff, and citizen and technical advisory committees. These committees provide technical analysis, specialized knowledge and citizen input on specific issues regarding regional transportation planning.

According to the presentation, “all urbanized areas” are required to have an MPO or be part of an MPO.

Under the transportation planning arm of the MPO, the public, the MPO board and the committees will work together to develop a vision and then create policies and strategies to support the vision. During the programming portion, the parties will prioritize the proposed initiatives and then match initiatives with available funding.

The Metropolitan Transportation Plan — one of the products of an MPO — describes the vision for the region and policies, operational strategies and projects to achieve it. It covers at least the next 20 years and is updated every four to five years.

The Transportation Improvement Plan — the other product of the MPO — is a staged, multi-year, intermodal program of prioritized transportation initiatives consistent with the MTP. Any initiative not listed in the TIP can’t receive federal funds, according to the presentation. The TIP shows annual activity over four-year periods and must be updated every four years.

“A comprehensive, cooperative, and continuing process is required for initiatives to be eligible for Federal transportation funding,” according to presentation documents. Available funding can come from federal, state and local governments, transportation agencies and public-private partnerships.

Presentation documents showed federal funding is formula-based for highways, formula and discretionary for transit, and most of it will come through the state department of transportation. They also state that “nearly all” federal funding requires a state or local match.

The commissioners suggested the USDT, Federal Highway Administration and MDT look at using the Tri-County Council of Southern Maryland to house and form the MPO. Clark added that though it seems like a good idea, the council already submits transportation priorities to the state on a yearly basis.

“More than likely, we’re going to spend time coming up with the same priorities we already have there,” including the Gov. Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge and the intersection at routes 235 and 4, he said.

“Does this put us in any better position to be able to move forward with them two priority developments in the near future?” Clark asked.

“I think the answer is no. It would not advance getting funding for the Thomas Johnson Bridge,” MDT’s Mike Nixon said.

Clark said the major priorities locally are going to be those two and they won’t change when the MTP or TIP are supposed to be updated.

Clark asked if the presentation had been given to the St. Mary’s County Commissioners, and Nixon told him it was a “much shorter” presentation to the executive board of the tri-county council in September. He explained that St. Mary’s County Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) was “very much opposed to this.”

Morgan said Tuesday afternoon during a phone interview that he is “totally against it.” He said the Census Bureau has taken “wild caveats” in creating the MPO and that “nothing ties itself together.”

“There’s no rhyme or reason behind it,” Morgan said, adding that he has made an attempt to decline participation in the MPO. He said at the time of the interview he had not spoken with any Calvert commissioners about the issue.

Clark said he didn’t understand what purpose the MPO would serve considering the priorities would remain the same and the designation wouldn’t help those priorities move forward any quicker.

Tracy Perez, Maryland Transit Administration regional planner, said the implication of not participating in the MPO would be a loss of Federal Transit Administration funding.

“What would happen is you’re jeopardizing receiving any federal money, not just the urban money, but the rural money. So the FTA could decide to not give the county any federal funding for transit,” Perez explained. “It’s more of an impact actually on your transit — the risk is to your transit funding more than anything else.”

“It’s what you call twisting the arm to participate or we’re not gonna give you nothing,” Clark said. “Like I said, if you could give me a reason or purpose to participate, and show me what’s going to come out of it, I’d be the first one to jump out, ‘This is gonna help us get this, this and this,’ but you’re standing here telling us, ‘Hey, that’s not the case.’”

Miller told the commissioners the MPO “enables the local officials to have a stronger voice ... but it does not enable you necessarily to have access to the funds.”

aharrison@somdnews.com