ANNAPOLIS — Several offices of the Maryland Department of Transportation visited the House of Delegates Environment and Transportation Committee on Thursday to present their progress in recent years and their priorities for the future.
Committee Chair Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery, said the briefings by the Maryland Port Administration, Motor Vehicles Administration, State Highway Administration and Maryland Transportation Authority were an opportunity for lawmakers to learn more about the big issues for transportation in the state.
The briefings are “a great educational tool for use,” Barve said, though he added that “the big issues are the Purple Line and the Red Line,” which the visitors did not discuss.
Port Administration Seeks New Space for Dredged Materials
Each year, the Army Corps of Engineers dredges about 1.5 million cubic yards of sediment from Baltimore Harbor so cargo ships from around the world can complete their journey to the port. But the dredged material has to go somewhere, said Maryland Port Administration Executive Director Jim White, and containment facilities on the Patapsco River at Masonville and Cox Creek will be full in about 14 years.
“There’s a lot of work we want to do at our facilities,” White said. “Private industry wants to invest, but we have no place to put the dredge material.”
White’s “State of the Port” presentation portrayed a harbor fresh off a successful year and in need of more land to thrive and expand.
Gov. Larry Hogan’s fiscal 2016 budget would increase harbor dredging funding by 45 percent — a $25.6 million bump — to allow the MPA to purchase Coke Point, a peninsula near the mouth of the Patapsco owned by Sparrows Point Terminal LLC. A 310-acre containment facility there could support 15 years of harbor dredging, White said.
“Bottom line is, that’s our highway,” White said. “It doesn’t matter how many assets we have shoreside, how good our labor is — if we can’t get the ship alongside, then we’re not going to get the jobs and the economic benefit.”
White added that the Port Administration could build a shipping terminal on the point later on, adding three container berths and about 9,000 jobs on top of the dredged material.
“I’d like to sign the deal for the property today,” he said.
Barve thanked White on behalf of the delegates.
“As always, we strongly support our port,” he said.
Motor Vehicles Administration Presents Safety Record
This state’s roads saw 29,213 injurious crashes and 466 fatalities in 2013, down from 32,384 and 550 in 2009, Motor Vehicles Administration officials told the committee. Chief Deputy Administrator Chrissy Mizer attributed part of that decrease to laws prohibiting cell phone use while driving, as well as anti-drunken-driving measures such as the agency’s ENDUI app. Mizer said ENDUI, which includes a contact list and a blood alcohol content calculator, has been downloaded 34,000 times since November.
“It’s another way to educate people using social media to try to get additional information out and try to help them make good decisions,” she said.
Mizer also mentioned the 2011 Drunk Driving Reduction Act, which expanded the state’s Ignition Interlock Program to about 11,500 participants in 2014. The act requires underage drunk drivers, repeat offenders and violators with a blood alcohol content above .15 to use an ignition interlock device, which measures a driver’s blood alcohol content and can prevent the engine from starting.
State Highway Administrator Melinda Peters praised the Coordinated Highways Action Response Team, which monitors traffic and reroutes traffic around crashed vehicles or other obstacles. She also expressed support for the “move over” law, in effect since October, which aims to keep an empty lane between motorists and first responders at the scene of a crash on the highway.
“We’d like to expand that best practice, to remind drivers even for highway workers or maintenance workers that are out,” Peters said. “If you’ve got room, that’s another way to help provide the safety buffer for those that are out there on the side of the road.”
Mizer added that the MVA has adjusted some of its staff’s schedules to offer 1,180 additional driving skills tests each month starting this week. The administration currently has about 17,500 appointments for the tests each month.
Maryland Transportation Authority Discusses Electronic Tolling
The Maryland Transportation Authority, which manages toll facilities, is working on a study of all-electronic payment systems to take the place of cash stations. While the state can charge motorists for tolls after photographing their license plates as they drive through toll gantries or plazas, Deputy Executive Director Deb Sharpless said the Transportation Authority is encouraging drivers to use E-ZPass transponders, which offer cheaper toll rates than other payment methods.