Hand­ful of leg­is­la­tors ‘sur­prised’ by bridge project

Ho­gan, So. Md. del­e­ga­tion at odds as to how Nice re­place­ment came about

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com

De­spite the South­ern Mary­land Del­e­ga­tion seem­ingly happy that Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) an­nounced fund­ing to re­place the Gov. Harry W. Nice Me­mo­rial Bridge this week, the two sides still seem to be at odds.

On Mon­day, Ho­gan an­nounced the state will be­gin work­ing on the new Po­tomac River cross­ing in 2018 and will have it com­pleted by 2023.

The Mary­land Trans­porta­tion Author­ity unan­i­mously voted to re­place the bridge on Mon­day morn­ing, and Ho­gan’s ap­proval of the plan sealed

the fu­ture for the new bridge.

The project will cost the state about $806 mil­lion, which Ho­gan said is a sig­nif­i­cant de­crease from what the Gen­eral Assem­bly pro­posed last year in a bill he ve­toed.

The bill would have put to­gether a fund­ing sys­tem that would have been put to­ward costs for re­plac­ing the bridge by 2030. Ho­gan’s plan costs less and will be done seven years ahead of that sched­ule.

Ho­gan said find­ing a re­place­ment strat­egy for the bridge was “al­ways a pri­or­ity” for his ad­min­is­tra­tion and was some­thing they were go­ing to work to­ward. He said lo­cal and state leg­is­la­tors have been “play­ing po­lit­i­cal games” and that has pre­vented him from get­ting any­thing done in re­gards to the bridge.

Ho­gan did not spec­ify any leg- is­la­tors in par­tic­u­lar, but said he had a num­ber of con­ver­sa­tions with the leg­is­la­ture about the bridge dur­ing the last Gener- al Assem­bly ses­sion and “we made it very clear they were coun­ter­pro­duc­tive.”

“They were in­ter­fer­ing with our abil­ity to get it done. This had noth­ing to do with trans- por­ta­tion, it had ev­ery­thing to do with pol­i­tics,” Ho­gan said.

Ho­gan said many peo­ple are up­set with the state’s “road kill bill” which was en­acted in 2012 be­fore he was elected. The bill re­quires the gover­nor of the state to rank all ma­jor tran­sit projects by fac­tors such as the eco­nomic im­pact and en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact.

Ho­gan is con­fi­dent he can get the leg­is­la­ture to re­peal that bill, he said, be­cause of peo­ple’s con­cerns.

“They’re po­lit­i­cal an­i­mals. They want to get re-elected,” he said.

Del. Sally Jame­son (D-Charles) said the an­nounce­ment took her by sur- prise, but the im­pact on the re­gion will be a pos­i­tive. Re­plac­ing the “heap of crap we’re us­ing now” with a safe and ef­fi­cient project is good for the fu­ture.

But she said she is also sur­prised Ho­gan said he was in sup­port of re­plac­ing the bridge all along.

“[Sen. Thomas “Mac” Mid­dle­ton (D-Charles)] had a bill, I had a bill. We both met with [State Trans­porta­tion] Sec­re­tary [Pete] Rahn after the tolls were re­duced to see if there was any­thing we could do,” she said. “They told us if you find any money for it, we’ll work with you. And we did. The bills passed, but the gover­nor ve­toed it.”

Jame­son said the South­ern Mary­land Del­e­ga­tion and the Gen­eral Assem­bly would work to over­ride the veto, but now they do not have to. That is likely the rea­son why, she said, Ho­gan chose to move for­ward with this plan in the first place.

Ho­gan is up­set with the “trans­parency bill,” Jame­son said, which is the term many leg­is­la­tors use to de­scribe the bill that re­quires Ho­gan to rank trans­porta­tion projects. But if this is the re­sult of the bill, she said, it is work­ing.

Mid­dle­ton said he is thank­ful Ho­gan changed his po­si­tion on the bridge and will re­place it with a new, wider bridge. Re­plac­ing the bridge is a “mat­ter of fair­ness,” he said, that will ben­e­fit South­ern Mary­lan­ders.

Ear­lier this year, Mid­dle­ton said, the gover­nor ques­tioned whether the bridge needed to be re­placed, so this de­ci­sion comes as a sur­prise. Jame­son agreed, but said it is “a wel- come one.”

Jame­son said it will be in­ter- es­t­ing to see if the costs re­main down and the plan re­mains on sched­ule, but “I am hope­ful it does.”

Rahn said the cost sav­ings for the bridge came from the strat- egies they are us­ing to build it.

“Bring­ing the widest span down, low­er­ing the pro­jected height and tak­ing ad­van­tage of a deeper chan­nel, all of those con­trib­uted as well as other de­ci­sions about ma­te­ri­als,” Rahn said. “It’s still go­ing to be a 100year life for the [new] bridge.”

She was not in­vited to the press con­fer­ence where the project would be an­nounced, Jame­son said, and nei­ther was Mid­dle­ton. How­ever, she said, she still hoped things would work out in the fu­ture.

Charles County Del­e­ga­tion Chair­woman Edith Pat­ter­son (D-Charles) said she hoped things would work out as well, but would have liked to re­ceive an in­vite to Mon­day’s press con­fer­ence at the Nice bridge with Ho­gan. The del­e­ga­tion has worked “for years and years” just to get the mo­men- tum to build a new bridge and she would have liked to see it come to fruition.

“This is some­thing we could have worked to­ward last year,” she said. “I am very happy to see it fi­nally hap­pen­ing, and look for­ward to it im­prov­ing the re­gion eco­nom­i­cally.”

Del. C.T. Wil­son (D-Charles), who was also not in­vited to the press con­fer­ence, said it does not mat­ter whether he was in- vited or not as long as “things are get­ting done.”

“Isn’t that the en­tire point of this all?” he said. “I wasn’t elected to get ready for a cam­paign ev­ery four years. I was elected to get things done. That’s what we’re try­ing to do here. I don’t care who does it, whether it’s us or him. As long as it’s done.”

Wil­son met with Ho­gan on Mon­day in La Plata along with Charles County res­i­dents to dis­cuss the eco­nomic fu­ture of the county and how to im­prove it. Ho­gan brought up the Nice bridge as a pos­i­tive, he said, so it was in his plans.

Wil­son said he had a clue some­thing was com­ing on the Nice bridge after a dis­cus­sion with some of Ho­gan’s staff mem­bers “a cou­ple of months ago.”

“They told me he had it in his plans. They didn’t know when he would do some­thing, but they told me to just be pa­tient. And I was,” Wil­son said. “I’m not sur­prised by this at all.”

STAFF PHO­TOS BY MICHAEL SYKES II

Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R), left, and Pete Rahn shake hands with Charles County Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son be­fore an­nounc­ing the plan to re­place the Gov. Harry Nice Me­mo­rial Bridge Mon­day af­ter­noon.

Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) and Sec­re­tary of Trans­porta­tion Pete Rahn an­nounce the re­place­ment for the Gov. Harry Nice Me­mo­rial Bridge while stand­ing under it on the edge of the Po­tomac River on Mon­day af­ter­noon.

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