Md. legislators consider bill allowing counties to block toll projects

County governments in Maryland could have the authority to halt transportation projects that include tolls, under a bill filed in the state senate.

That authority already belongs to nine counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and Senate Bill 229 would grant the same veto power to every other county in the state, as well as Baltimore City.

Legislators are hearing the proposal amid Gov. Larry Hogan’s efforts to add toll lanes to Interstate 270 and the Capital Beltway. Hogan argued that his plan is badly needed to break regional gridlock.

The bill is sponsored by Maryland state Sen. Susan Lee of Montgomery County.

During a hearing Wednesday before the Senate Finance Committee, Ben Ross of the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition backed the bill. He told the panel that under current law, two members of the Board of Public Works “can commit the state to vast and imprudent investments.”

“Senate Bill 229 would put a badly needed check on their authority,” he said.

Sen. Ben Kramer, whose district includes Montgomery County, said keeping the decisions on large-scale transportation projects at a distance from county governments can be desirable. Locally elected officials, he said, “will very often have our spines quickly turn to gelatin on a project like this,” referring to the Beltway and I-270 tolling project.

Keeping decisions at a distance, he suggested, could remove that conflict.

A similar bill failed to get out of committee last year, and Sen. Delores Kelley — the Finance Committee Chair whose district includes Baltimore County — made clear to supporters that the bill as submitted faces a steep climb.

“The bill isn’t ready for prime time — though I agree with the goal,” she said at Wednesday’s hearing.

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