As Maryland’s Department of Transportation deals with the impacts of budget constraints caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Frederick County officials continue to press the state to address improvements to U.S. 15 through the city as a major priority for the county.
The issue of improvements to U.S. 15 between Interstate 70 and Md. 26 remains the county’s top transportation priority, County Executive Jan Gardner told Transportation Secretary Greg Slater and other state transportation officials during a virtual meeting Wednesday night.
The project has been the county’s top priority for several years.
With all the interchanges in the area failing their traffic volume limits during both the morning and afternoon peak rush hours, improvements are critical to the community and are supported by municipal leaders around the county as well as county officials, Gardner said.
The county is disappointed that there’s been no commitment from the state to fund a portion of design for improvements and even more disappointed that an environmental assessment for a project hasn’t been completed, she told Slater.
The federal government won’t consider further funding for any work unless there’s a commitment from the state to a design, she said.
The cost for a design plan for the corridor would be “hefty” for the state right now, but they would be happy to look at breaking a portion of the project out for design funding, State Highway Administration Administrator Tim Smith said.
That could allow approval for the environmental assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act, he said.
Slater confirmed that the state will look for every opportunity to move the project forward.
Gardner said she believes it would be hard to break the project into pieces since it all needs to be done, but the county would be happy to have a conversation on the issue.
“I just really think it’s important for us to get this project ready to go,” she said.
Sen. Ron Young, the vice chair of the county’s delegation to the General Assembly, also emphasized the importance of the U.S. 15 projectand said the state and county need to do whatever they can to move the project forward.
Consideration for funding of projects such as the U.S. 15 work comes as the Department of Transportation looks at a significant drop in revenue from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Revenue for the current six-year consolidated transportation plan trust fund is down in every area, Slater said.
Fuel tax revenue is down $636 million from last year, titling tax revenue is down $190 million, and corporate income tax revenue is $183 million less than last year, he said. Also, Maryland Transportation Administration revenue has dropped by $174 million, and aviation revenue by $146 million.
Overall, the state has seen a $2.9 billion drop in funds from the fiscal 2020-25 CTP that they introduced nine months ago, he said.
As a result, agencies within the department have seen dramatic cuts in their budgets.
The State Highway Administration alone saw a $900 million reduction in funding for capital projects and a 7 percent drop in its operating budget, Slater said.
As a result of the cuts, residents should expect to see a decrease in road maintenance, less cutting of grass and picking up litter near roadways, and cuts in MARC train and commuter bus service, among other things.
“The reality is, we just couldn’t find a way to cut $1.9 billion in capital and $98 million in operating costs without having every Marylander across the state feel it,” Slater said.