P3 ‘Promises’ Bill Unlikely to Get a Vote, Committee Chairman Says

Traffic on the Capital Beltway near the American Legion Bridge. WTOP photo by Dave Dildine.

A measure intended to hold the Maryland Department of Transportation to its “promises” on a controversial highway project appears headed for defeat for the second year in a row.

Sen. Guy J. Guzzone (D-Howard), the chairman of the Budget & Taxation Committee, said in a brief interview on Friday that there are “too many issues” with the bill.

House Bill 67 sailed out of the House of Delegates 101-35 on March 22. But it has gone nowhere in Senate. Neither has a companion measure, Senate Bill 843.

Backers of the legislation, sponsored by Del. Marc B. Korman (D-Montgomery) and Sen. Joanne C. Benson (D-Prince George’s), said it is needed to hold the Hogan administration and MDOT to pledges they have made in connection with the proposed widening of Interstates 495 and 270.

They point to the agency’s failure to make good on Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s pledge to include a bike and pedestrian lane on the new Nice-Middleton Bridge in Charles County.

The Korman/Benson bill was essentially a catalogue of public statements that Hogan and Transportation Secretary Greg Slater have made regarding the Montgomery County highway project.

The requirements addressed local transit funding, a requirement that an environmental review be completed before contracts are signed, and information-sharing with local planners, among a host of of other issues.

Mass transit vehicles would be allowed to use HOT lanes for free under the bill.

Guzzone told Maryland Matters that one issue is the “different postures” the Senate and House bills are in, due to amendments added by the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

“And [both versions] have issues,” he said, without elaborating.

Critics of Korman’s bill have complained that it has the potential to derail Hogan’s bid to tap billions of dollars in private funding to ease the capital region’s traffic woes, though they have struggled to identify specific provisions they find objectionable.

Korman said the House “has done its job” in trying to improve a project that has alarmed residents, environmentalists and planning officials in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. He expressed regret that the Senate has “again” failed to act.

With the General Assembly scheduled to adjourn Monday at midnight, time is running out.

Guzzone didn’t rule out bringing the bill up for consideration on Saturday or Monday, saying he’s “keeping an open mind,” though another member of B&T said the bill is dead.

As recently as March 19, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said he was “very aware” of the Korman-Benson bill, telling reporters, “I think we will probably see a bill that ensures high expectations but also doesn’t jeopardize projects.”

Given the Hogan administration’s plan to get a “predevelopment” contract to the Board of Public Works this spring, House Environment & Transportation Committee Chairman Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) said this session is the legislature’s last real opportunity to influence the project.

“I hope this is the year the Senate decides to move a bill,” he said. “But it’s not looking good, is it?”

A leading transportation advocate reacted with glee to news that the Korman/Benson bill appeared headed for defeat.

“Congressman [sic] Korman was grabbing at straws for anything to stop the process and misfired,” said Emmet Tydings, co-founder of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance. “A bad bill should always go down.”

Slater has spent many hours trying to assuage critics of the plan he inherited from his predecessor, Pete K. Rahn. But opponents of the project worry that without measures that enshrine verbal promises into law, the administration will be free to reverse course where it chooses to.

“It’s obviously disappointing to have three years of inaction by the Maryland Senate on one of the most vitally important issues facing the state,” said Gary V. Hodge, a former elected official in Southern Maryland and a project critic.

“The bills on this issue have gone to B&T to die.”

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