Dividing the pie: Maryland lawmakers take on transportation project selection

By Mary Ebeling

The Maryland legislature on April 8, 2016 overrode a gubernatorial veto in order to pass a transportation project scoring bill that will rank and ultimately help select major capital projects. The legislation and new ranking system is similar to Virginia’s Smart Scale, which ranks and prioritizes transportation projects throughout the state. Unlike Smart Scale, which was a bipartisan effort with gubernatorial support, Maryland’s effort has hit a major road block, challenged by a lack of critical gubernatorial support.

Many representatives from the urbanized areas in the state, especially the Baltimore region, are still feeling the sting from Governor Hogan’s cancellation of the Red Line extension in Baltimore.  Some have characterized the new scoring system as a response to the loss of the Red Line project. When Hogan shelved the Red Line, legislators from the more populous areas of the state saw the money for that project redistributed to highway and bridge projects in suburban and rural areas of the state. In fact, the USDOT continues to investigate whether defunding the Red Line was a violation of Federal Title VI Civil Rights legislation.

The fate of Maryland’s project ranking and selection law remains to be settled, and the legislative and executive branches have drawn their proverbial lines in the sand. Governor Hogan’s office is insisting on the repeal of the bill before discussing reforms to the project selection system. The legislature is not willing to repeal the bill but has offered to compromise on delaying implementation for two years while a work group develops recommendations for how to evaluate and rank transportation projects. As Senate President Mike Miller commented, “We need to do something different. We need to legislate and we can do that, but it takes the executive branch and the legislative branch working together.”

Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.