Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, who represents the Fifth District, submitted the following op-ed:
Baltimore County’s Department of Public Works has some of the finest public servants I have met in two decades of working at every level of government. That includes the public works directors I have served with while on the County Council, Ed Adams and Steve Walsh. I voted to confirm both of them, and would do so again.
Unfortunately, like any governmental bureaucracy, these public servants have to deal with political pressures placed on them from above.
Case in point: the recent decision by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz to proceed with changes along Towsontown Boulevard without support from the local community and with no notification to my office.
For more than a half-decade, Towson University and three hospitals in western Towson have championed an expansion of Towsontown Boulevard near Osler Drive. While almost everyone wants something done about the congestion in this area, there is no consensus on what improvements should look like. The “Big Four,” has they are often called, have supported improvements that would affect the wooded property to the north. Residents of Southland Hills have preferred taking land to the south.
Recently, the Green Towson Alliance floated the idea of a dedicated bike lane. Towson University’s own 2015 Master Plan endorses this concept along the perimeter of the campus.
The costly and controversial improvements were thought to be in limbo until construction suddenly started in late September. It took three days for my office to receive blueprints, and only after the County Executive’s office had issued a press release on the $2.3 million project.
Again, I do not dispute the need for a project to improve this corridor. I do question the lack of transparency and community input, as well as the urgency when Towson has many transportation concerns.
The administration has sent contradictory signals. While this stealth project was advancing with no public input, the administration was preparing a press release announcing a community meeting on a Randallstown transportation project. Why did Randallstown get the benefit of a public meeting, and not Towson?
The administration will spend $1.7 million in county funding on this project, an amount that would resurface more than six miles of roads, according to our County Auditor. I credit the administration for responding to my requests for resurfacing work in communities like Rodgers Forge, Towson Manor Village, and Anneslie, but the conditions in other neighborhoods are horrific–and the Department of Public Works refuses to brief me on a timetable for repair, perhaps under political pressure.
There are many reforms that I think would improve the Department of Public Works, including a stronger emphasis on bicycle and pedestrian improvements. For now, I am seeking assurances that the Department will have a more consistent input and notification process on major transportation projects, which is why I have filed Bill 75-16.
This legislation requires the County Council to be notified of projects and the posting of these changes on the County Web Site. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to testify.