St. Mary’s County commissioners discussed regional transportation priorities with state delegates at their meeting on Tuesday and decided the Gov. Thomas Johnson Bridge should be at the top of the list.
Each Southern Maryland county submits its transportation priorities to the Maryland Department of Transportation annually and, in turn, the Tri-County Council of Southern Maryland also submits a regional transportation priority letter. Commissioners approved the St. Mary’s County MDOT Regional Transportation Priorities Letter on March 24.
The Tri-County Council reviewed Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s submissions and drafted a regional transportation priorities letter which did not pass the council earlier this summer. While the original letter did not include the Johnson bridge replacement as a funding priority, several officials called for a revision.
The new letter listed three regional top priorities, in no specific order, which included the Southern Maryland rapid transit project and the Route 231 corridor assessment study along with the bridge replacement.
According to meeting documents, on July 16 a meeting was held with county and Tri-County Council representatives, where each county was asked to review the revised draft letter, with commissioners and delegation members to provide feedback by July 28.
At the usual business meeting on Tuesday, Commissioner President Randy Guy (R) said he’s “been heavily involved” in the discussions regarding regional transportation priorities, but not much progress has been made.
“Charles County seems to be holding strong” to rapid transit as a funding priority, he said. “Personally I think maybe this letter is a waste of time because we won’t have the funding anyway,” Guy said. “Priorities probably will be changing” as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Del. Gerald “Jerry” Clark (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s), who has been a member of the Tri-County Council for around 10 years, said, “It’s always been that the Thomas Johnson Bridge was the No. 1 priority” and it should continue to be the No. 1 priority.
“You can say, ‘Well there’s no funding’ … but consistency of the region is important,” he said, adding the bridge is significant to St. Mary’s, Charles and Calvert County, Del. Matt Morgan (R-St. Mary’s) said.
“I believe every commissioner on stage today and delegates who represent St. Mary’s County, if you asked us what our transportation priority is, it would be the Thomas Johnson Bridge, point blank,” he said, mentioning he does not agree with the notion that the council should not send a letter at all because of potential lack of funding, but rather the letter should emphasis the Gov. Thomas Johnson Bridge as the most important project.
“An equally-weighted list doesn’t make any sense,” since transportation money all comes from the same pot, the delegate noted.
Sen. Jack Bailey (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert) said, “Commissioner Guy was correct, there is no money for this project. ... We need to stay on course and oppose sending this letter.”
“I don’t think it’ll make a difference overall in the way the state is going but I think it’ll make a difference in the long-term of just stating the current position,” Commissioner John O’Connor (R) said regarding the letter.
Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) recommended making the Johnson bridge the first priority in the letter and if it doesn’t pass the council, to not send a letter at all.
O’Connor moved to have the proposed letter set the Gov. Thomas Johnson Bridge as the first priority and have the other two drop off as regional priorities below the bridge, with all other commissioners agreeing.
The Tri-County Council executive board was set to meet again on July 30 to continue discussing the letter and a virtual full council meeting is scheduled for Aug. 13.