County executive contenders are sparring over whether the Republican gubernatorial candidate has promised state funds to upgrade Md. 75, a corridor targeted for intense development.
The narrow country highway has played a central role in citizen protest over several large residential projects approved for the southeastern part of the county. Residents turned up in droves at public hearings to describe the traffic congestion and safety risks that would come from building the 1,100-home Landsdale development and the 1,250-home Monrovia Town Center along Md. 75.
Commissioners President Blaine Young, who helped approve the developments and is running for county executive, agrees that the highway needs improvement. And although the project is estimated to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, the GOP candidate says state help is on the way if Republican Larry Hogan becomes Maryland’s next governor.
Young’s opponent, Democrat Jan Gardner, says she’s not holding her breath.
Gardner said in three recent debates that Young has claimed that Hogan has committed to fund the highway upgrade if he wins the state’s highest elected post.
Last week, she wrote to Hogan asking him to confirm that he had promised to fund Md. 75 and to explain where he would find money for the improvements. She also pressed him to reconcile the commitment with the fact that Md. 75 is not in a priority funding area, or a region targeted for state road and school funding.
In response, Hogan’s communications and policy director, Adam Dubitsky, issued a two-paragraph statement that faulted Gov. Martin O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown for raiding the state’s transportation trust fund and taking money away from local roads projects.
“As governor, Larry Hogan will restore local highway user revenues to local governments and make sure a higher percentage of transportation dollars are spent on building and maintaining our roads — a true reflection of Marylanders transportation needs,” Dubitsky said in the statement sent to The Frederick News-Post. “Larry will work with Blaine Young as County Executive to improve roads like Route 75 in Frederick County.”
Young said the county can leverage highway user revenue and contributions from developers to chip away at improving Md. 75.
“It wouldn’t all happen immediately, but we would get it into the pipeline,” Young said of the project.
He said the statement from the Hogan campaign demonstrates a solid commitment to Md. 75 and other Frederick County roads projects.
Gardner reads the statement very differently.
“Larry Hogan has made clear he has no intent to fund Md. 75,” she said. “What Blaine is telling people is smoke and mirrors.”
She said the campaign’s statement, which she did not receive, does not answer the questions she raised in her letter. State action to restore highway user revenue is a far cry from directly funding the Md. 75 project, she said.
In fiscal 2008, the state’s budget provided Frederick County with $14.15 million in highway user revenue, but the funding levels took a nose dive in the following years. Since then, the state contribution has been on a slow recovery and is now at about $1.3 million for fiscal 2015.
State projections show reconstructing the road would cost about $262 million, said Ron Burns, the county’s engineering supervisor for traffic and transportation. Burns estimates that widening the road to four lanes could push this figure to $500 million.
But Young said developer contributions can help close the gap; Burns reported that developers have committed almost $24 million to improvements along the highway.
Steve McKay, president of Residents Against Landsdale Expansion, charges Young with obscuring the reality that the project is nowhere on the horizon.
“There’s so many reasons to doubt the likelihood of this huge road project happening,” he said.
He points to a Sept. 25 letter from the Maryland Department of Transportation that mentions that the highway is outside of priority funding areas, used by the state to encourage smart growth practices. The letter makes prospects for state funding look bleak, said McKay, whose group has opposed developments in the Md. 75 corridor.
However, Young asserts that the state’s stance on growth will change under the Hogan administration. Young says he is surprised Gardner has not secured similar assurances from Brown, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
“It is sad that as a candidate she has not and will not get Anthony Brown on the record to step up and get a commitment to fund a state responsibility” such as Md. 75, he said.
Gardner said she is not making public claims that Brown will fund the project.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.