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Transportation Alliance eBlast April 2012

April 2012 eBlast

The 2012 General Assembly has once again failed to seriously consider, let alone pass, any legislation that would direct more revenue to fund transportation projects across the state.  As reported widely in the media, there has not been any increase in the gas tax, the main source of revenue for the Transportation Trust Fund, since 1993, when the tax was raised to 23.5 cents per gallon. 

The purchasing power of those 23.5 cents has dramatically decreased over the past 19 years while the cost of maintaining and expanding our transportation system has steadily increased.    There is no disagreement that what a dollar buys today is significantly less than what a dollar could buy in 1993. Yet, our legislature seems content to continue to ignore the need for additional revenue to keep up with system preservation, the repair and maintenance of the State’s transportation infrastructure in place today, let alone fund critically needed expansion of highway and transit systems.

The decreased purchasing power of revenue from the gas tax put in place almost two decades ago completely negates the argument put forth by some state elected officials that additional revenue for transportation projects would not be needed if the State’s chief executive – the governor – is prohibited from raiding the Trust Fund for non-transportation uses.  We agree that placing a so-called “lock box” on the Trust Fund is necessary and this was a priority recommendation of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding.  But the Commission also found that an additional $800M a year was needed for system preservation and to begin to move the backlog of new projects forward.

The failure of the State Legislature to increase funding for transportation projects is not “status quo” with respect to the existing condition of our transportation infrastructure and the pace of bringing new projects on line.  Rather, the result of yet another year of inaction is movement  backwards. Basic repair and maintenance of highways, bridges, rail and other transportation projects cannot be realized with the current level of funding.  Designing new highway improvements and critical mass transit projects will be put on hold or drawn out over a longer period of time, delaying the completion of these projects far into the future.  Congestion levels will not remain static, they will increase as the economy continues its slow recovery and economic growth creates jobs.  And, at a time when both federal and state funding sources continue to dwindle, the Legislature also did not pass legislation that would revise the process for creating Public Private Partnerships that would attract private investment to help fund not only transportation projects but also other projects that have historically been funded with only public dollars such as public schools.

Compare Maryland’s “backward progress” in maintaining and improving transportation with what has been occurring, despite facing the same economic recession that has befallen Maryland, in states across the country over the past few years:
•    In 2010 Georgia, Kansas and California enacted legislation to increase revenue for transportation projects;
•    In 2011 Arkansas, Connecticut, Nebraska and Rhode Island enacted legislation to increase revenue for transportation projects;
•    In 2011 Nevada enacted legislation requiring the Southern Nevada Transportation Commission to move forward with design and construction for a toll road and authorized the Commission to enter into a public-private partnership to design, construct, develop, finance and operate the project; and
•    In 2011 Virginia created the Virginia Transportation Infrastructure Bank with an initial capitalization of $238M from the State.  The Bank, part of a $4B transportation package passed by the 2011 Legislature, is providing financing and grants to assist in funding transportation projects across the state.

The state legislative bodies noted above recognize the critical need to not only fund transportation projects but also find innovative ways of leveraging public dollars and partnering with the private sector.  In contrast, below is a small sampling of the many transportation projects that will either be stretched out over many years or fail to move forward at all due to a variety of issues, including inadequate funding streams: 

•    Purple Line Light Rail extension connecting New Carrollton in Prince George’s County to Bethesda in Montgomery County, now in Preliminary Engineering, with no funding for the design and construction phases;
•    Red Line Light Rail through Baltimore County and Baltimore City, now in Preliminary Engineering, with no funding for the design and construction phases;
•    Intersection improvements along the major arteries leading to Aberdeen Proving Ground to accommodate employment growth;
•    Replacing the 100-year-old Susquehanna River Bridge and expanding to three or four tracks to facilitate Amtrak and MARC rail service (the Preliminary Engineering and environmental review have been funded, but the design and construction phases remain unfunded);
•    BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport Station Improvements, including adding a platform and a fourth track to accommodate projected increase in Amtrak service by over 40% and tripling of MARC service over the next 20 years.  Additionally, BWI Airport, one of the top performing regional airports in the country, is presently serviced by a train station with inadequate waiting areas and limited services for passengers (Preliminary Engineering and environmental review are funded, but there are no funds budgeted for design and construction of track, platforms, or a station with passenger amenities);
•     Replacing the Dover Bridge on MD 331 over the Choptank River where mechanical difficulties have affected commerce and emergency services in both Caroline and Talbot Counties; and .
•    Constructing an interchange at U.S. 15 and Monocacy Boulevard in Frederick to improve safety and manage traffic due to employment growth on and around Ft. Detrick.

Clearly, without any additional revenue for the Transportation Trust Fund, existing funding must be prioritized for projects that will support and/or be a catalyst for economic growth and provide access to major employment centers. 

One such priority must be the expansion of the MARC commuter rail system.  The Transportation Alliance has conducted a feasibility study that supports the ability to expand MARC service without needing to add track or purchase cars and as a result has launched an initiative called ‘Let’s Get to Work.’ Phase I of the initiative outlines a strategy for expanding service in the Baltimore/DC corridor for approximately $20M a year in additional operating funds.  Given the lack of action by Maryland’s Legislature, this is not “new money” and would have to be funded out of the existing operating budget for MDOT/MTA.   

While we recognize that this is not an easy task, the expansion of service on the MARC system should be a priority.  MARC serves nine of the state’s 24 jurisdictions, connects the state’s two largest metropolitan areas (Greater Baltimore and the Maryland DC Suburbs) and provides service to major employment centers along all three lines – Penn, Camden and Brunswick.  In fact, approximately one out of every four jobs in Maryland is located in a dense employment center close to a MARC station.

We know that expanding the MARC system is not the panacea for the critical transportation needs that all of the state’s jurisdictions are facing.  But… the tracks exist, the rolling stock exists, and expansion of service can be implemented starting with the next fiscal year.

We can’t just stand still – or more accurately, move backwards – while we wait for the State Legislature to accept responsibility for finding a way to adequately fund transportation.  We must work with what is in place today and do everything we can to improve those existing systems.  The “Let’s Get to Work” initiative enhances one such system, and one that has immense potential to get people to work.
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