‘I don’t know how we can keep going’: Former DPS official explains staffing issues at BWI

Providing basic services amid tight staffing shortages at the Maryland Department of Transportation is a challenge, personnel-officer Colleen Griffin acknowledged Monday afternoon. “I don’t know how we can keep going,” Griffin said.

Griffin, a civilian employee with 19 years of service at the agency, was speaking at a public forum about the state’s ongoing major overhaul of how it staffs the Maryland Transportation Authority Authority, which includes the World Trade Center in Baltimore.

The state’s transportation authority is staffed by thousands of state employees; the authority area employs some 3,000 people, including about 200 who are employed by the state, and, according to the department, includes “the largest law enforcement agency on the East Coast.”

The authority’s Board of Commissioners held a public forum to discuss how staffing at the authority has been affected by a state bill that also created a new new vehicle registration and registration waiver. Last week, the commissioners announced they would be offering voluntary buyouts to employees affected by the downsizing.

Because of those difficulties, Griffin said Monday, some checkpoints at the BWI Marshall Airport will not be as efficient as usual. “The plates have already been cleared at BWI,” she said. “So if you’re sitting there waiting to get on a line, you’re not going to go as quickly as you normally would.

“So that’s one of the things that we’re going to have to do to get around that,” she said. “We’re going to have to be creative. We’re going to have to be creative in other places to try to solve the problem.”

The proposed changes at the authority came after the General Assembly’s 2013 session, when legislation created a new registration and waiver program called the Maryland Automobile Service Clearinghouse. The program replaced the old Vehicle License Service, which was the force behind keeping vehicles registrations current.

While driving a vehicle after receiving the new registration and waiver would not have affected an existing vehicle, vehicles caught moving out of the regular time frame for the renewal might have prompted a ticket, according to Lieutenant Katie Horne, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Police.

Earlier this month, during the final business day of the 2013 legislative session, then-state Sen. George Edwards, chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, announced details of a $7 million reduction at the state’s Vehicle License and Registration Center. Two vehicles sales lounges would close, along with another vehicle salesroom and a maintenance shop. Additionally, there would be a reduction in personnel.

DPS spokeswoman Carly Sparks said the state government anticipates reducing its workforce by 3 percent, or more than 1,800 people, across the department. The General Assembly must still vote on whether to finalize the proposal.

One of the issues driving the downsizing at the authority is the rise in traffic volume and the potential for future growth. More traffic jams have become a concern for planners and the current state law does not allow the authority to hold on to obsolete or dangerous roads for long.

“We’re looking at capacity,” Griffin said. “We’re looking at where that demand is going to be.”

She noted that during major construction or lane closures, traffic conditions can be affected. “That’s one of the reasons we’re having meetings with the stakeholders to see how we can tweak the construction process,” she said.

Sparks said the department is planning another meeting with stakeholders this month. A hearing in Annapolis has been scheduled for Oct. 16.

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