In the days leading up to a crucial vote by an influential transportation panel in July, one of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s political action committees, Change Maryland, dipped into its coffers to fund Facebook ads aimed at local officials in the D.C. region.
The sharply worded ads claimed that unless the Transportation Planning Board reversed a June vote that sought to derail one of the governor’s top priorities — the addition of toll lanes on Interstates 495 and 270 — “every single transportation project in the National Capital Region will be killed…”
The TPB buckled under the pressure from Hogan, other political leaders and businesses interests in the capital region, reversing the vote it had taken just a month earlier.
In light of the threats from the governor’s PAC, Del. Marc A. Korman (D-Montgomery) asked Transportation Secretary Greg Slater on Monday how much money the state has budgeted for five high-profile projects that Hogan (R) said were on the chopping block.
Slater acknowledged that four of the five remain unfunded and that a fifth has only a small allocation for engineering work.
Korman — who was accused of “playing political games” in Hogan’s Facebook ads — said the continued lack of funding in the state Department of Transportation’s six-year Consolidated Transportation Program (CTP) offered more proof that Change Maryland’s weeks-long PR campaign was built upon a false threat.
“Before the (Transportation Planning Board) reversed its decision, these projects had zero dollars slated in the CTP,” Korman said during a joint committee hearing. “And after the TPB reversed its decision, these projects… have zero dollars…”
“Correct,” Slater acknowledged.
The secretary drew a distinction between different funding blueprints under which the state Department of Transportation operates. “The conversation was around the Constrained Long-Range Plan, not the CTP,” he said. “So the CTP holds the funding; the long-range plan is the long-range plan.”
Korman was one of three Montgomery leaders targeted by Hogan’s PAC in the weeks leading up to the planning board vote. County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) and Council President Tom Hucker (D) were the others. The trio were called “far-left” politicians looking to “appease a small group of pro-traffic activists.”
The projects on the chopping block, Hogan’s PAC claimed, were the Corridor Cities Transitway, a proposed busway in the I-270 corridor; the widening of Route 301 in Prince George’s County; a full build-out of the Beltway interchange serving the Greenbelt Metro station; a new intersection at Georgia Avenue and Route 28 in Aspen Hill; and improvements to Route 180 and Ballenger Creek Pike in Frederick County.
Slater told lawmakers that the benefits Maryland receives from the just-passed federal infrastructure bill will be “significant.” Over the next five years, the state can expect to receive $4.1 billion for roads and highways, $1.7 billion for transit and $158 million for its airports.
He said the money should start to flow in January and that the agency intends to submit a supplemental budget to the General Assembly once federal rules for the funds are established.
Slater predicted that roughly half of the money Maryland receives will be used to reduce the maintenance backlog and half will go for system expansion.
“I do want to kind of manage expectations,” he cautioned. “Just on the highway front, a billion dollars can go pretty quickly.”
Slater told lawmakers the draft CTP, at $16.4 billion, is approximately one billion dollars larger than last year’s, due primarily to prior federal aid and motor fuels tax revenue coming in above projections.