MDOT officials report to County Council on projects

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The Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz Dorchester County Councilmen met recently with transportation department officials for an annual update. From left are Councilman Ricky Travers, Council President Jay Newcomb, SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer, Deputy Transportation Secretary Parran Wilson, Councilmen William Nichols, Tom Bradshaw, and Rick Price.

CAMBRIDGE — The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) presented its annual report at the Nov. 3 Dorchester County Council meeting. Wilson Parran, deputy transportation secretary, summarized the draft FY1015-2020 budget. MDOT’s goal is moving projects into the field as quickly as possible. The Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014 authorizes appropriations from October 2014 through May 2015 for specified federal-aid highway programs.

The nearly $1 billion in projects and services underway statewide includes Eastern Shore projects: $49.9 million to construct the new 301/304 interchange in Queen Anne’s county; $30 million to widen route 404 in Queen Anne and Caroline counties; $64.6 million for a new Dover Bridge in Talbot and Caroline counties; and $4.4 million for a route 822 roundabout Gateway project to University of Maryland Eastern Shore in Somerset county.

“I also want to update you,” said Mr. Parran, “on some of the key projects here in Dorchester County. On the Cambridge Sailwinds project we’ve made significant progress over the past year. The MD Port Administration transferred the property to the City of Cambridge giving control of this project to local officials.” MDOT is working on a number of rail projects. In Hurlock, the dilapidated train station building was demolished; MTA has awarded the construction contract for the Delaware Ave. grade crossing at MD 392, and plans to replace 3 additional grade crossings.

MDOT is negotiating a Trail Use Agreement with the North Dorchester Railroad group (aka Eastern Shore Scenic Railroad) to sponsor rehabilitation of an inactive rail track between Hurlock and Preston for tourist rail passenger services.

“With the increase in transportation funding this marks the second year in a row that Maryland has provided a record setting six year budget of nearly $16 billion. This budget increases construction spending for all modes of transportation by 67 percent,” he said.
Mr. Parran cited BWI/Thurgood Marshall Airport and the Port of Baltimore as economic engines which generate and support more than 100,000 jobs and provide more than $6 billion in wages and salaries yearly.

The department will invest $165 million in locally operated transit system programs to service about 41 million riders yearly.

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The Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz Deputy director of the Maryland Department of Transportation Wilson Parran (left) answers a question from the audience at the Nov. 3 Dorchester County Council annual meeting with MDOT.

Deputy Parran explained, “Over the next 6 years MDOT will invest more than $750 million in a variety of projects to protect air and water quality; and, $200 million to make cycling and walking more attractive and realistic transportation alternatives. In every project we remain committed to ensuring that safety is paramount.”

While Maryland decided to raise transportation revenues, the federal government has not resolved the balance between revenues and spending in the federal Highway Trust Fund, said Parran. Although the Federal Transportation Trust Fund Extension bill was signed in August to ensure that it has enough money to cover current levels of funding through May 2015 Parran asked for council support by contacting federal representatives. The council unanimously agreed.

MTA Director of Local Transit Support, Beth Kreider, complimented Delmarva Community Services’ transportation program and noted that her division funded an additional $59,000 in operating funds to support an expansion of services in Hurlock, Cambridge, and Preston.

Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) District Manager Virginia Colon noted that customer service is at the forefront in her division. Customer wait time now averages 25 minutes or less. MVA processed over 12.7 million transactions in 2013; serviced over 7.6 million customers; and contributed over $1.5 billion to the Transportation Trust Fund.  Ms. Colon said Maryland experienced the lowest number of highway fatalities since 1961. Responding to Council President Jay Newcomb’s comment that some of his constituents prefer using the Salisbury office rather than the Easton office because it is more “user-friendly,” Ms. Colon requested that anyone with a problem contact her or the DMV manager in Easton.
SHA Administrator Melinda Peters said fatalities and injuries are trending downward in work zones. “Engineering, education, and enforcement” are the keys to safe work zones.

SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer described FY2014 projects. Paving included: 1.4 miles of sidewalk improvements and additions on US Route 50 from the Choptank River to Bucktown Road; Route 335 was paved in three locations; and, several miles of tidal flooding locations were resurfaced. Projections for FY2015 include: Resurfacing 16 various locations; roundabout installation at Woods Road/Route 16. Work on the Harriet Tubman visitors’ center for $20.9 million is underway including an $8.5 million transportation grant. The Brookview Bridge will be rehabbed and painted. Flashing warning lights were installed at the 392/331 intersection in Hurlock.

Biking is a popular activity in the county and safety is a major issue. Councilman Rick Travers asked about bike lanes near Blackwater. Mr. Drewer said the project was given to a consultant for a feasibility study to see where they can widen or not widen the road since wetlands constitute about 1/3 of the routes and contribute to environmental concerns.

Restoration of Mid Bay and Poplar Islands are authorized via passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2014. The transportation department hopes to construct the Poplar Island expansion in 2016 and initiate the Mid Bay project in 5-7 years.

President Newcomb asked “what do you think about our Highway User Funds for next year?” Secretary Commissioner Susan Dukes, commented, “I don’t think the governor’s office understands what these cuts have done to the cities and the towns. We have been cut close to ¾ of what we used to get.” Deputy Parran responded that 2005/2006 was “the first hit.” Over the years there were additional cuts. “It’s a challenge that will require a lot of interaction beyond MDOT,” he said, and will require legislative action to change the formula. “There are some things that can be discussed and we’ll be happy to discuss them with you.”

The Transportation Trust Fund receives money from consumers who pay user fees for transportation infrastructure and services through corporate income taxes and taxes on motor fuel and vehicle titling; plus registration fees, and operating revenues. The state also receives federal funds as congressionally authorized. Motor fuel taxes constitute the largest revenue percentage at 22 percent with vehicle titling second at 16 percent. Project revenues are $28.6 billion over six years and include estimates based on a moderate economic growth scenario.

MDOT capital expenditures are 51 percent of the budget with operating expenses second at 38 percent

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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