Ho­gan: I was un­aware of Hatem bike plan

Gov. pleased, frus­trated in first years

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By JA­COB OWENS

jowens@ce­cil­whig.com

— Gov. Larry Ho­gan was not aware of his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan to open the Hatem Bridge to bi­cy­cle traf­fic July 1 un­til he was in­formed of the pol­icy this week, he told the Whig in an ex­clu­sive one-on-one in­ter­view at his ho­tel Thurs­day morn­ing.

NORTH EAST

“I just heard about this for the first time last night as I met with lo­cal lead­ers,” he said. “I was never in­formed. I don’t know any­thing about it.”

The new pol­icy was un­pop­u­lar with of­fi­cials from Per­ryville, Ce­cil County and Havre de Grace, all of whom voiced safety con­cerns about al­low­ing bi­cy­clists to ride across the rel­a­tively nar­row Route 40 bridge along with ve­hic­u­lar traf­fic. With no ded­i­cated bike lanes on the 76-year-old bridge, bi­cy­clists are re­quired to ride in the cen­ter of the right lane.

Ho­gan said it is his un­der­stand­ing that it was not Mary­land Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Peter Rahn’s de­ci­sion, but that of an ap­pointed com­mit­tee that “made this de­ci­sion ar­bi­trar­ily on its own.” He was not spe­cific about what com­mis­sion that might be, but ac­cord­ing to Mary­land state gov­ern­ment flow­charts, only one ap­pointed board ex­ists un­der the Mary­land Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion, which has au­thor­ity over bridges: the eight-mem­ber MDTA Board

which is ap­pointed by the gover­nor with ad­vice from the State Se­nate to three-year terms.

Ho­gan said that he an­tic­i­pated talk­ing with Rahn on Fri­day to find out more about how the new pol­icy was in­sti­tuted, say­ing “we’re go­ing to get to the bot­tom of this.”

“It sounds like there were a lot of lo­cal con­cerns, and I have con­cerns about it as well,” he said. “My un­der­stand­ing is that there is a com­mis­sion that made the de­ci­sion, and all th­ese bike ad­vo­cates came and the squeaky wheel got the grease.”

Ho­gan also told the Whig that he is re­cep­tive to a re­cent re­quest from Per­ryville and Ce­cil County of­fi­cials for the MDTA to con­sider a com­muter dis­count at the Ty­d­ings Bridge Toll Plaza on In­ter­state 95. Such a com­muter plan and dis­counts at the Route 40 Hatem Bridge have led to rush-hour traf­fic buildup on lo­cal roads as com­muters look to avoid the more costly Ty­d­ings toll.

“That’s some­thing I’d like to talk to Sec­re­tary Rahn about, ab­so­lutely,” Ho­gan said Thurs­day, adding that part of his rea­son­ing for vis­it­ing ev­ery cor­ner of Mary­land through­out the year is to hear about such lo­cal is­sues first­hand in order to re­turn to An­napo­lis to see what can be done to re­solve them.

And two years into his first term, Ho­gan is pleased with the progress his ad­min­is­tra­tion has made so far, but is also frus­trated that other goals have been stymied by the Mary­land Gen­eral As­sem­bly.

In 17 months, the Re­pub­li­can gover­nor has bat­tled cancer, re­solved ri­ot­ing in Bal­ti­more and helped jump­start a pre­vi­ously slug­gish state econ­omy while be­com­ing the most well-liked gover­nor of the 2000s. Ho­gan is well aware of his ap­proval rat­ings, which stood at nearly 66 per­cent in an April Washington Post-Univer­sity of Mary­land poll, and be­lieves they are a good barom­e­ter of the suc­cess of his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“Peo­ple seem to be happy with the changes we are mak­ing, and nearly two-thirds of all Mary­lan­ders now think the state is head­ing in the right di­rec­tion,” he said. “As I was tak­ing the oath of of- fice, all of the high­way signs were be­ing changed to read, ‘Mary­land Wel­comes You, We’re Open for Busi­ness,’ and last year was the best year for busi­ness and job growth in Mary­land in eight years.”

Ho­gan touted the 67,000 new pri­vate-sec­tor jobs cre­ated un­der his ad­min­is­tra­tion and the fact that Mary­land moved from last place to first place for job cre­ation in the Mid-At­lantic re­gion. He also high­lighted the suc­cess­ful push for re­peal of the “rain tax,” the de­crease in tolls and the pas­sage of tax re­lief for veter­ans.

“All to­gether, we’ve de­liv­ered $660 mil­lion in tax re­lief that we’ve taken out of the state gov­ern­ment and put it back into our econ­omy, small busi­nesses and tax­pay­ers’ pock­ets,” he said. “We’re proud of where we are, but frus­trated that more hasn’t got­ten done.”

Ho­gan said he’d hoped for pas­sage of a man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs bill dur­ing the last as­sem­bly that he said would have helped ar­eas like Ce­cil County, the Eastern Shore, West­ern Mary­land and Bal­ti­more City by in­cen­tiviz­ing such eco­nomic devel­op­ment. He said that his ad­min­is­tra- tion would push for that leg­is­la­tion next year along with a com­pre­hen­sive in­come tax cut bill that passed the State Se­nate but failed to pass in the House of Del­e­gates this past year.

Also among his un­ful­filled cam­paign prom­ises is the restora­tion of High­way User Rev­enue funds, which have been dec­i­mated since the eco­nomic re­ces­sion. HUR funds, made up of rev­enue cre­ated from the state’s fuel tax, ti­tle fees and other ve­hic­u­lar fees, were tra­di­tion­ally split 70-30 be­tween the state and lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions, in­clud­ing coun­ties and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. Af­ter the re­ces­sion led to a de­crease in state funds, leg­is­la­tors be­gan raid­ing the lo­cal fund­ing to make up for short­falls, lead­ing to a de­crease of nearly 90 per­cent of the 30 per­cent ap­pro­pri­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to the Mary­land As­so­ci­a­tion of Coun­ties (MACo).

In fis­cal year 2009, Ce­cil County re­ceived about $6.4 mil­lion in HUR funds, but by fis­cal year 2015 only re­ceived about $602,000. With a dra­matic de­crease in state aid for road main­te­nance, it means that lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions are ei­ther cov­er­ing their own short­falls or sim­ply de­fer­ring the work un­til funds are avail­able.

“I said in the cam­paign that there are places in our state that have been largely ig­nored for eight years. In the Eastern Shore, West­ern Mary­land and South­ern Mary­land, the peo­ple felt that no one was pay­ing at­ten­tion to them,” he said.

While the Gen­eral As­sem­bly con­trols how the money is col­lected and split, Ho­gan said his ad­min­is­tra­tion con­trols how to spend the state’s ap­pro­pri­a­tion, and he has in­vested $2 bil­lion in roads and bridges with a large fo­cus on send­ing that money to state projects in ar­eas that felt for­got­ten.

“We mov­ing for­ward with 84 high­way road projects and 65 bridge projects – re­pair­ing or re­plac­ing all of the 65 struc­turally de­fi­cient bridges that we in­her­ited,” he said.

While he, along with MACo and the Mary­land Mu­nic­i­pal League, lob­bied for bills to re­store pre­vi­ous HUR fund­ing lev­els for lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions, they ul­ti­mately have not been suc­cess­ful in nav­i­gat­ing the as­sem­bly over the past two years.

“The leg­is­la­ture doesn’t want to help lo­cal govern­ments; they don’t be­lieve in High­way User Rev­enues even though it was a com­mit­ment made,” he said. “Both of the leg­is­la­ture’s pre­sid­ing of­fi­cers have an opinion that (lo­cal govern­ments) shouldn’t get any­thing. They want to take it to zero, while we want to take it back to where it was.”

Ho­gan said that he in­tended to bring the fight over HUR fund­ing back to the as­sem­bly next Jan­uary with a re­newed fo­cus from coun­ties and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties back­ing leg­is­la­tion. He said that he hopes leg­is­la­tors take a look at the po­si­tions of their con­stituents on is­sues dur­ing the in­terim.

With that in mind, the gover­nor said he is well aware that much of what he has ac­com­plished has been in uni­lat­eral de­ci­sions that did not need to in­volve the Demo­cratic-con­trolled Gen­eral As­sem­bly.

“I’ve gone out of my way to work in a bi­par­ti­san fash­ion and reach across the aisle, and we’re go­ing to con­tinue to do that with what we hope is more suc­cess,” he said. “But that’s the frus­tra­tion. For nine months of the year, we’re mak­ing progress and then for 90 days, we just have th­ese silly po­lit­i­cal bat­tles.”

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JA­COB OWENS

Gov. Larry Ho­gan said he did not know about the plan to al­low bi­cy­cles on the Hatem Bridge be­fore it went into ef­fect, and has con­cerns about its im­ple­men­ta­tion.

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