ANNAPOLIS – Car registration fees are going up to pay for new roads and mass transit, but a host of other transportation-related ideas stalled in the General Assembly when it adjourned for the year Monday.
Speed camera approval, anti-helmet legislation and penalties against scofflaw drivers sputtered to a stop.
The Driver Responsibility Act, a bill to impose fees and surcharges on drivers who accumulate five or more points in three years or who are convicted of alcohol- or drug-related offenses, did not go beyond a Senate committee.
The measure ran out of time, but it will be back in 2005, said its sponsor, Sen. Rob Garagiola, D-Montgomery.
“There was a lot of support for it,” he said. “If we had another week or so, I think it would have been part of the budget. We’ll have more time. This is going to be one of my priority bills next year.”
Several other initiatives to increase road safety, penalize road offenders and raise revenue also stumbled.
A bill to begin a five-year pilot program for speed cameras in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties was approved by the Senate, but failed to get out of a House committee.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. vetoed similar legislation in 2003 that would have given Maryland jurisdictions authority to install and run speed camera programs.
Opponents called the measure intrusive and a disguised fund-raising ploy.
Sen. Jennie Forehand and Delegate William Bronrott, both Montgomery County Democrats, sponsored the legislation and said speed cameras are about safety, not revenue.
Other proposals stuck until next year include a measure to allow bikers over age 21 holding a motorcycle license for at least two years, or who complete an approved safety course, to ride without helmets. The measure passed the Senate last week, but did not make it to the House floor.
ABATE of Maryland, a motorcycle association lobbying for the measure, said the proposal would return next year and the group would work toward passage.
And despite lively debate on road safety measures, money for projects drove the transportation discussion in the Legislature.
In January, Ehrlich laid out a plan to build the Inter-county Connector — a highway linking Interstates 95 and 270.
The $1.7 billion project, which is separate from the state’s road projects, would be funded by federal and state bonds and toll revenue.
The ICC could clear a major hurdle if the Regional Transportation Planning Board votes April 21 to include it in an air quality study for area projects. The study is only one part of the process toward approval.
Ehrlich has promised construction would begin in fall 2006.
But lawmakers and local officials have criticized Ehrlich’s plans to construct the ICC — his No. 1 transportation priority.
Some say the highway would draw away funding from much needed transit projects in the state’s urban and suburban areas. Others say regional road projects are already competing for funds with the 17-mile ICC project.
Local road and transit projects could begin seeing some improvements, however, as Ehrlich’s proposal to raise registration fees to fund road projects won a narrow victory April 9.
State vehicle owners will pay for much of the $237 million transportation initiative, which will raise biennial registrations from $81 to $128 for cars and from $108 to $180 for heavy vehicles.
The governor signed the measure Tuesday and the new fees take effect July 1.
Transit won other legislative victories.
The General Assembly approved a bill that could stabilize fares for users of Maryland Transit Administration bus, light rail and Baltimore-area Metro services.
The bill, which would not affect the Washington-area Metro service, would maintain current standards requiring Maryland Transit Administration programs to regain at least 40 percent of operating costs. It now awaits Ehrlich’s signature.
An Ehrlich spokeswoman said the governor has not yet taken a position on the bill.