Hogan: I was unaware of Hatem bike plan
Gov. pleased, frustrated in first years
— 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.
“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.”
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.