The study told us no more than what we knew five years ago. The money for the study could have been applied to needed road repairs instead. --John F. Wood (D-Dist.29B)
By Guy Leonard, County Times
HOLLYWOOD, Md. (Aug. 7, 2008)—Two delegates within St. Marys and Calvert counties say the findings of a recent transportation study naming the top priorities for Southern Maryland have long been known to officials here and the money used to fund the study could have been better spent.
The study, from the Commission to Study Southern Maryland Transportation Needs, stated that an extra span for the Gov. Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge, a western bypass for Waldorf and an upgrade for Route 301 and more public transit options for Southern Maryland were the top three most-needed projects.
Del. Tony ODonnell (R-Dist. 29C) said he first voted on the bill in the 2005 legislative session when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich was in office. Ehrlich vetoed the bill but his veto was overturned in a special legislative session.
ODonnell said he voted to uphold Ehrlichs veto, which eventually failed.
They overrode his veto for political reasons, ODonnell told The County Times. If we start doing transportation studies in the legislature instead of through the Maryland Department of Transportation, well have our lunch eaten.
ODonnell said if transportation studies were continually brought up for votes in Annapolis, then the counties with the most political clout Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince Georges will always get the lions share of transportation money from the state.
That could leave Southern Maryland continually waiting for its share, he said.
The study was conducted by a company called Cambridge Systematics, Inc., based in Bethesda, in cooperation with A.G. Samuel Group, Inc and Sabra, Wang and Associates, Inc.
The study also included the assistance of the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland and The Maryland Department of Transportation.
Estimates of the studys cost, dated back to 2005 from state legislature records, reached about $200,000.
The fiscal note for the bill that authorized the study, SB 281, stated back in 2005 that the study could be redundant.
MDOT advises that some of the tasks required by the bill duplicate or overlap with existing or future studies, the note states. Presumably the cost of the analyses would be lower as a result.
However, it is unclear how much previous or current analyses conducted by the state or [Tri-County Council] could be used to reduce the cost of the bill. MDOT advises that it can be as expensive to update earlier data as it is to collect it.
The executive summary of the report states that the 21-member commission that compiled the report did so to update the 1998 Southern Maryland Regional Strategy-An Action Plan for Transportation.
Substantial growth in the region and changing commuting patterns have created the need to update the 1998 effort, the studys executive summary states.
Del. John Bohanan (D-Dist.29A) argued that the needs study was necessary because it showed what could be accomplished when the three counties, St. Marys, Charles and Calvert, as well as portions of Anne Arundel and Prince Georges, could do when they focused their efforts.
When you have all three counties speaking in unison its a much more powerful force, Bohanan said. It [the study] helps prioritize transportation needs for the region
no one else in the state has done that.
Del. John F. Wood (D-Dist.29B) said he, too, voted to pass SB 281 in 2005 and override the Ehrlich veto, though he said he had personnel reservations about the bill and the need for the study.
When you talk about $200,000, I think it was a lot of money, Wood told The County Times. And we already knew where the problems were.
The study told us no more than what we knew five years ago.
Wood said the money for the study could have been applied to needed road repairs instead.
We couldve fixed a lot of potholes with it, Wood said of the $200,000. It was like giving a donation to these people [the contractors who conducted the study.]
But why did Wood vote for the study even though he said he believed it was not needed?
Because it was a Southern Maryland issue, Wood said. It made some people in the delegation feel good and look good.
Sometimes you just close your eyes, grit your teeth and push the button.
The assessment showed there were between $6 billion and $7.3 billion-worth of transportation system needs in Southern Maryland with $2.1 billion to $2.4 billion as the top priorities. The rest were projects in counties that had regional significance, according to the report.
Commission Identifies So. Maryland's Top Transportation Priorities, July 23, 2008
State Announces Transportation Funding for So. Maryland, Jan. 17, 2008
Governor Vetoes So. Maryland Transportation Needs Study, May 25, 2008