Monday, July 20, 2015

Orphan Bridge

Bridge Columbia appears to be stuck.  The bridge intended to connect Oakland Mills to Town Center received bipartisan support in the race for County Executive and supporters had reason to believe that this would be a high priority budget item in FY2016.  Then candidate Allan Kittleman sent a letter to the CA Board of Directors ( with a copy to Friends of Bridge Columbia) stating that he fully supported the project and looked forward to working with the group to bring the bridge to fruition:

Unfortunately for Bridge Supporters, and fortunate for the County Executive, the language of this resolution provides a fairly expedient escape hatch - "...immediate action by county, state, and federal officials to begin replacement of the existing pedestrian bridge...."  We all know how this goes - "You know there is not a stronger advocate for X in all of Y, but I tell ya what folks, I just can't get Z to budge on this issue, so we're just going to have to wait."  You would be hard pressed to find a more well-worn tactic of executive governance than a good ole fashioned buck passing.

And this works if you want to believe what you're hearing.  It just doesn't hold up to scrutiny.  Last February, we saw what happens when an Executive wants funding for their County - they lobby those who have the ability to provide support (publicly or privately depending on what kind of news coverage they want to generate and how much they are willing to embarrass fellow politicians for political gain).

Even if this kind of lobbying were already underway, both state and federal funders often, if not always, require a budget to be in place with County skin in the game before they are willing to participate.  Said otherwise, they don't play go fish.  "Do you have any $6 million bonds you can give my County?  Go fish."

And finally, these funds need to meet a state or federal priority to justify support.  I'm just not sure that's here, particularly since the Governor has recently announced priority funding for road projects over public transit.  That would seem to put a project premised on the need for public transit in a bad spot.

Amanda Yeager with the Columbia Flier recently wrote a piece describing conversations between the County Council and Friends of Bridge Columbia.  It doesn't take too hard of a read to see that the Council is getting squeezed.  The County Executive assures supporters that this Bridge is going to happen, but doesn't fund it in his budget and has yet to undertake any public campaign to obtain federal or state funds.  The Council then has to follow up and explain just how far off this project is from completion, while having the least control over lobbying for funds, drafting budgets, or setting capital budget priorities.  Which of the two meetings do you think was the more fun to attend?

I am optimistic that a bridge will be built sometime over the next four years.  I do not think it is going to be the Bridge that candidate Allan Kittleman supported on October 10, 2014.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!