Resolution 49-21 called for the state and federal government to begin the next phase of the Bay Bridge study calling for a full replacement bridge, not a third span. The resolution was adopted by the Anne Arundel County Council on Monday, October 4, days after the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners passed a nearly identical resolution, unanimously.
The two existing bridges that connect the Eastern Shore and Western Shore of Maryland are no longer capable of handling the number of vehicles while facilitating reasonable and reliable commute times for residents. Despite warning signs for decades that the Route 50 corridor approaching and crossing the Chesapeake Bay was nearing a breaking point, there was no action at the state level until Governor Larry Hogan allotted $5 million for Tier 1 of a Bay Bridge crossing study in 2016. This is the first step in a multi-step process that could lead to construction.
As Tier 1 of the study inched closer to a final environmental impact statement that would recommend a location for a new bridge, or a third span, site options were leaked to the public. With rapid response, jurisdictions along the shores of the bay replied in opposition to locations that would bring a bridge to their county. The potential sites were whittled down to three, all within Anne Arundel County. Pasadena, Broadneck (at the current location) and Deale, with the governor publicly stating the only location he would support would be the current location of the existing bridges.
In June 2021, the Anne Arundel County Council passed resolution 32-21, asking that the Tier 1 bay bridge study be paused in order to revisit the intended outcome of the study before finalizing a location decision. The resolution stressed the need to review the approaching corridors to ensure that capacity could be added for a third span, which would run in conjunction with two existing spans, without compromising the quality of life of residents impacted by traffic backups on local roads. While County Executive Steuart Pittman supported this resolution, he was also vocal about supporting the “no build” option.
We were at a stalemate. The summer chugged along and so did traffic, often at a snail’s pace. I struggled through the summer traffic challenges, like many District 5 residents, and I asked myself if I had done everything possible to move our county, our district, toward traffic relief. I hadn’t. With the standing resolution to pause the study, and no feedback from the state, progress was delayed only because we had not found common ground and a way forward. The next day, I picked up the phone and asked for a meeting with Commissioner Jim Moran in Queen Anne’s County.
The state has been clear. There will be one bridge built. The size, and scope of the bridge will not be determined until Tier 2 of the study, which will require funding from the state. This second phase of review cannot begin until the completion of Tier 1.
The existing bridges are at, or 20 years over, their 50-year life span, requiring major maintenance work every year to maintain their safety for travel. Maintenance that causes miles of traffic delays in the offseason and millions of dollars in funding by the state. A third span won’t fix the inadequacies of these bridges. A third span in another county won’t miraculously shift conditioned commuters or erase the five decades of use that requires regular work.
It became clear that the best path forward for our counties was to support a replacement bridge for the current two spans. That is what Resolution 49-21 called for: an eight-lane replacement bridge for the existing five lanes, adding three more lanes to maintain traffic flow during increased travel times, poor weather conditions, when there are disabled cars and emergency response, and while utilizing the gate system that is currently under construction.
Without this joint effort with our neighbors on the Eastern Shore, the progress could have significantly been delayed, if not abandoned, on one of the most important issues to residents and the impacts on your quality of life.
State and federal governments control all actions forward. The Tier 2 study, if funded, will take an estimated three to four years to complete and will evaluate everything from underwater marine life in the bay to the infrastructure potential on 21 miles of the corridor approaching the bridges. Upon completion of the second tier, funding for construction of the proposed bridge would then be necessary.
As we recover from the daily challenges of summer traffic, we have confronted another transportation dilemma. The school bus driver shortage in Anne Arundel County, like most jurisdictions in the state and across the country, has created an additional stress for parents and families, and created traffic backups in communities.
On November 15, the Anne Arundel County Council will consider Bill 88-21 that will appropriate $7.4 million to Anne Arundel County Public Schools from the chief administrative officer (CAO) contingency fund to increase bus driver pay by $5 per hour. This fund is typically used for one-time unanticipated uses, like snow removal. While the bill proposes a one-time funding source, the $7.4 million will be rolled into the overall expenditure that the county made toward Anne Arundel County Public Schools for the 2022 Fiscal Year. In other words, this increases the minimum expenditure for the school budget by $7.4 million, outside of the annual budget process, for a recurring expense.
Will a $5 per hour increase in pay bring back the commercial driver's license (CDL) drivers who were recruited to major retail delivery providers in 2020? Will a $5 per hour increase in pay incentivize retired drivers to return to the workforce? These are the details I will consider as we discuss this bill in the coming weeks.
Federal Grant Money
Funding oversight is an important function of the legislative branch. As the final fiscal authority for the county, the council weighs in on the annual budget and many other fiscal matters, including grant funding.
In 2008, the county council passed legislation that created section 4-11-114 of our code and the handling of grant funding. The conditional appropriation of the unanticipated grants section was created in cooperation between the then administration and auditor. At the time, any unanticipated grant fund, even as small as $5, required approval by the county council. This created a significant amount of legislation and visits to the council. Since the passage of that legislation, grants have been appropriated, without council approval, so long as certain conditions are met.
Until 2020, it was unusual for an unanticipated grant award to the county to be above $250,000 and rare to be above $500,000. Federal COVID relief funds changed that. The most recent American Recovery Plan Act gave Anne Arundel County over $112 million in federal dollars. The council receives a monthly report of the expenditures and is only notified outside of that report timeframe if the expenditure is over $500,000. The council does not have the ability to publicly discuss or vote on the use of these funds.
I have heard from many residents who have questioned the transparency and balance of this process. On November 15, the council will hear and vote on my legislation, Bill 92-21, that would require council approval on any grant appropriation over $300,000. Fiscal responsibility is important.
You can review these and all other bills on the Anne Arundel County Council website. For any questions, concerns, or to sign up for the District 5 newsletter, please email me at email@example.com.
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