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Purple Line

Vote YES on Transportation Funding Bill – For More Jobs & Better Commutes

Today the Maryland General Assembly will vote on the first major transportation funding package since the state gas tax was last adjusted for inflation in 1992. 

The House bill (HB 1515) would retain the current 23.5-cent gas tax at current levels, but index it to inflation, and also apply a 1% sales tax to gasoline sales at the wholesale level, which would increase to 2% by January 2015, with further increases possible depending on federal action on an expected move in Congress to impose an national internet sales tax.  If Congress enacts such a tax, Maryland would dedicate a portion of the proceeds to transportation.  If not, the wholesale sales tax would be increased accordingly.

When fully implemented, the House package brings in a good portion of the $880 million per year the recent Blue Ribbon Commission found Maryland needs to invest now, to begin making up for decades of under-investment in its crowded and deteriorating transportation infrastructure.   It would provide enough funding to meet maintenance needs and build major new Washington-area transit projects like the Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway — which would not be possible without this legislation.

This is a must-pass bill and now is the time for action.  While it contains some language to safeguard dedicated transportation funds from being diverted in the future, the language in this bill probably dos not go far enough, so we are urging the Senate to look at strengthening this provision and continue to call for a separate initiative to create a consititutional “lock-box” on Transportation Trust Fund.   

But area business owners and major employers, who have been calling on Maryland officials to boost transportation funding for more than a decade, and frustrated motorists and transit riders wasting time and money in one of our nation’s most congested regions, cannot afford to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  This is a good package – an urgently needed one – and will get our economy back on track more effectively than any other action the legislature could even consider taking this year. 

Please visit our Take Action page to express your support for more jobs, better transit options and less traffic.

House Ways & Means Passes Major Transportation Funding Bill

Annapolis, MD — On Monday in the Maryland General Assembly, the House Ways & Means Committee took an historic first step toward addressing Maryland’s long-neglected crisis in transportation funding with passage of the first major transportation funding package since the state gas tax was last adjusted for inflation in 1992. 

The Ways & Means Committee voted 15-4 in favor of a package of new revenues similar to recent proposals by key Democratic leaders in Maryland that have won broad support among statewide business leaders and transportation advocates.  The House bill (HB 1515) differs from the original package introduced by Governor O’Malley and House and Senate leaders in key respects:  It would apply only a 1% sales tax at the wholesale level (instead of 2% in the original plan). That would increase to 2% by January 2015 (instead of 4% by July 2014 in the original) and it retains the current 23.5-cent gas tax at the retail level and indexes it to inflation — a very good idea given that the State’s previous failure to do so is the main reason we are in this mess today. 

It adds some new protection against future diversion of transportation funds to other uses, by requiring a supermajority committee vote and requiring repayment from the General Fund within 5 years in all cases (which is better than nothing), but this provision can and should be strengthened (to also require unanimous approval by the Board of Public Works, for example).   

Once fully implemented, the total revenues raised would be somewhat less than the roughly $800 million per year the Governor proposed, which is a cause for concern.  The actual need is for at least $880 million a year in new revenue, but this still would be by far the largest boost in transportation investment since 1992.  It would be enough to allow the State to keep up with future operating and maintenance needs, invest in new capacity on crowded roads, repair failing bridges, and provide urgently needed funds for major new Washington-area transit projects like the Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway — none of which would be possible without this legislation.

As we have pointed out before — every 10-cent increase in the gas tax translates to about $90 per motorist, per year, yet each of us is literally throwing away an average of more than $2,100 per year due to wasted fuel and other added costs directly attributable to our nations-worst congestion and poor road conditions.  This package is a wise investment for taxpayers and for our future economic competitiveness as well.  It will almost immediately create over 40,000 new construction jobs in our state, not to mention hundreds of millions more in economic growth and private-sector investment it will foster year after year.  It is clearly the right step to take. 

Please visit our Take Action page to express your support for better transit options and less traffic.

For more, see recent stories in the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post.

Hearing on Key Transportation Funding Bills – Set for February 20th

The 2013 Maryland General Assembly will soon take up critical transportation funding legislation.  Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has introduced two bills:

Take Action:  Hearings are scheduled on both bills and related legislation on February 20, 2013, at 2:00 pm, before the Senate Budget & Tax Committee in Annapolis.  SMTA members are invited to testify in person and show your support, or to weigh in now on-line and urge your legislators and the Governor to support these needed investments to keep our economy moving sign our petition !

TPB Paints Bleak Picture if Funding Needs Not Addressed

The Washington Region’s Transportation Planning Board (TPB) issued, as part of its weekly report, a new analysis of the region’s transportation future and it is a sobering view.    Their main conclusion:

Travelers in the Washington region will face considerably more roadway and transit congestion in coming decades if current planning and funding trajectories are allowed to continue.”

We couldn’t agree more.  Current funding trends in the State of Maryland and throughout our region are absolutely unsustainable and elected leaders in this State have been AWOL for years when it comes to addressing this crisis.  The economic costs of a failing transportation system are severe, and even crippling in scope, costing the state tens of thousands of well-paying construction jobs already, and hundreds of millions in lost revenue due to a systemic lack of investment in new capacity.   And that doesn’t even count all the lost productivity and jobs in other sectors that will move elsewhere as our traffic congestion continues to worsen relative to other markets. 

As you can see from this chart, the region is expected to see a 27% increase in vehicle work trips and a 24% increase in truck trips by 2040, but only a 7% increase in lane miles.  Even the most wildly optimistic estimates show that future growth in transit ridership will not even come close to addressing this gap — and the money is not there to fund needed transit expansion projects like the Purple Line and CCT anyway.  And TPB’s own figures show simply changing future development patterns doesn’t even make a dent in future congestion levels in the region.  We already have some of the worst congestion in the U.S. so imagine it getting 78% worse.   

This is not rocket science.  We know traffic is going to get much worse if we don’t add significant new transit and road capacity in the next two decades, we know we have no choice but to make these investments yet we have set aside no money to do so, and we have no plan to deal with any of this because Maryland State officials continue to make transportation their absolute last priority, year after year.  Irresponsible?   One could say that, but it would be an understatement.

Here is a link to the latest TPB weekly report.  If this isn’t enough of a wake-up call for State officials to step up to the plate this next session and do their jobs, it’s hard to imagine what would be.

 

Key Transportation Funding Bills: Up for Hearings in Annapolis This Week

Governor Martin O’Malley’s key transportation funding bills will be heard by three key committees in the Maryland State Senate and House of Delegates this week in Annapolis.  Two identical companion bills, titled the “Maryland Transportation Financing and Infrastructure Investment Act of 2012″ (SB971 and HB1302) are scheduled to come before the Senate Budget & Tax Committee, and the House Ways & Means and Environmental Matters committees, all on March 14th.  

Both bills add $613 million in desperately needed funding to restore Maryland’s decimated transportation capital investment program.  After going without a significant increase since 1992 in the motor fuel taxes (the primary source of transportation funding in Maryland), critically important projects including the Corridor Cities Transitway, Purple Line, Baltimore Red Line, and dozens of major road and intersection improvements throughout the Washington suburbs and around the state CANNOT BE BUILT unless the legislature approves new funding of at least this magnitude.

The bill also includes a “lock-box” type mechanism to prevent future diversions of transportation dollars to unrelated purposes (to avoid future raids), and a number of other provisions. 

The bills would apply Maryland’s 6% sales tax to gasoline sales at the wholesale level, phased in over three years.  The cost for the average household comes out to under $30 per year in the first year; about $55 the second; and about $85 when fully implemented.  Even at the full price, it is a small price to pay for reducing the $2,300 the average motorist in our state is currently throwing away in wasted gas and added wear-and-tear from sitting in the nation’s worst congestion.

Governor O’Malley Calls for New Infusion of Transportation Funds

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has come out with his long-anticipated proposal to increase transportation investment, and his proposal is consistent with a recently-issued Blue Ribbon Panel report that highlighted Maryland’s gaping shortfall in transportation funding.

O’Malley’s proposal would raise an additional $613 million a year in dedicated transportation funds, by applying Maryland’s existing 6% sales tax to gasoline sales at the wholesale level.  These new funds will be used for critical local projects in our area:  The Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, improvements to Route 1, 4 and 5, and a long list of other badly needed improvements, none of which will ever happen without a new infusion of funding.  The increase will be phased in, 2% per year, over three years and the total cost to the average driver of the entire increase is roughly $90 per year. 

The average Marylander is currently wasting up to $2,300 per year in wasted fuel and wear and tear directly related to our worst-in-the-nation congestion. 

The Governor’s plan includes important provisions to protect the Transportation Trust Fund from future raids, which is also good news for transportation advocates in the Free State.   This is critical to winning support for the package.

Legislation is expected to be introduced soon, and as soon as it is released, we will post more details as the actual bill begins to move through the General Assembly. 

This is an important step forward.  Please visit our Action page today, and send a message to your representatives to “Invest Now!” for more jobs and a better future for all of us.

Gov. O’Malley Signals New Transportation Funding Bill Coming Soon

As reported in the Washington Post, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley recently renewed his commitment to introduce a transportation funding bill in this session of the Maryland General Assembly.    This is very good news.  Transportation advocates have been pushing for an increase of $850 million or more, consistent with the recommendations of an earlier Blue Ribbon Commission report for several years, to address the precipitous decline in transportation investment that has occurred over the past two decades.  

Governor O’Malley correctly assessed the situation when he said:  “Doing nothing doesn’t seem to be a responsible option.”  He is absolutely right and Maryland legislators need to acknowledge this fact and act this year.  There will not be another opportunity, with statewide elections looming in 2014.

Maryland’s transportation system is in critical condition right now, with deteriorating roads and bridges and the nation’s worst traffic congestion in the Washington region.  Failure to act this legislative session will bring dire consequences for our local economy.  Without a major infusion of capital funding, traffic conditions will soon reach a breaking point.  Given the continued weakness in the state’s economy, and the inability to attract new jobs to key areas in the state without providing additional transportation capacity, this is the single most important thing on the legislature’s agenda this year because investing in transportation means jobs, jobs, jobs.

Recent polls by the Washington Post and others show that, on the surface, raising the gas tax appears to be unpopular, as is the case with most other taxes.  However, these polls do not go beyond the surface level to ask if support would increase if the legislature also added a “lock box” to protect the Transportation Trust Fund from future raids, and if voters knew a 10-cent gas tax increase would cost each resident an average of $50 per year, far less than the wasted fuel and other costs each of us is currently paying due to congestion and poor road conditions — a staggering $1,500 per resident per year in Maryland, which is a direct result of continued failure to invest in key transportation improvements.  When given these two pieces of information, support for a 10-cent increase soars in more detailed polling at the state and national level.  Voters want more investment in transportation, and when they hear the case being made they find it persuasive. 

Let’s face it, there is never an easy time to raise revenues from any source, but the gas tax has not been adjusted since 1992 and has lost more than half its value to inflation.  Maryland residents are paying less now in gas taxes in real dollars than they did in the 1970s, and current funding levels are simply no longer economicially sustainable, so now is as good a time as any to bite the bullet and do what they know is right.  Without an increase this year, major projects like the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway, or much needed improvements to Route 4, Route 5, I-270 and hundreds of others SIMPLY CANNOT MOVE FORWARD. 

It’s time to raise the gas tax and index it to inflation now! 

Visit our Action page to sign our on-line petition to “Invest Now!” in our transportation future.     

Virginia Moving Forward, Maryland in Reverse?

Washington Post columnist Robert Thompson’s column Maryland Drivers Face Many Mini-Challenges draws a pretty stark contrast between the levels of major investment in congestion relief taking place in Virginia compared to Maryland.  

Northern Virginia is currently in construction on two multi-billion-dollar “mega projects” — the Metrorail extension to Dulles Airport and adding new lane capacity to their portion of the Capital Beltway (I-495) with additional high-occupancy-toll (HOT) lanes.   Both are being funded with a mix of public and private capital.  Additional capacity expansion projects are also either planned or starting construction in the I-95/395 corridor and the I-66 corridor, and construction is nearing completion on the last phase of the Wilson Bridge replacement project.

Maryland is building the ICC.  That’s about it right now in terms of major capacity improvements at the regional level.  The Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway, the much needed widening of I-270 and portions of our side of the Capital Beltway and the American Legion Bridge all are under “study” but those studies keep dragging on and on with no sign of construction in the near term, and no moves yet to ensure that any of them can be funded. 

What we are doing, as Thompson’s column makes clear, is a lot of minor resurfacing and repair projects throughout Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties.  These are important, make no mistake, but don’t confuse this list of “mini” projects with actual investments to relieve the chronic congestion that plagues our region.  For that, just look to Virginia.

University of Maryland Drops Purple Line Opposition

This week the University of Maryland announced they have reached agreement with the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) and are no longer opposing the proposed routes for the Purple Line that run right through the College Park campus.  Supporters of the Purple Line may take heart in this welcome development, which removes one of the last major sticking points in determining the alignment between Bethesda and New Carrollton for this nearly $2 billion light-rail transit project.

The University of Maryland deserves credit for recognizing the value of direct access to a major regional transit line, which means thousands of students from Montgomery County will have another option to get there other than wasting their time sitting on the Beltway.  This is especially good news for evening students at University of Maryland University College. 

The original Green Line Metro station was also supposed to be located on the College Park campus, but in one of the more short-sighted decisions in our local transportation history, it was placed about a mile away, meaning hardly anyone found it convenient enough to use.  Now, with the Purple Line alignment coming directly onto the campus, perhaps MTA could look into relocating the Green Line station as well so there is one central access and transfer point. 

The Purple Line is now one step closer as a result of this wise decision.

MD Transportation Fund Takes Another $41 Million Hit

The Maryland General Assembly just concluded its 2011 session with more disappointing results.  Despite a strongly worded plea from the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding, urging them to provide $800 million more in dedicated transportation funds, the General Assembly took a big step in the WRONG direction, cutting the already depleted Transportation Trust Fund by another $41 million this year.

This short-sighted action means many more months of continued high unemployment in Maryland’s bleaguered construction industry, more potholes, worsening gridlock, and no hope of moving to construction in the near term on any major transit or road improvements in our area.  Current funding levels do not support construction of the Purple Line, the Corridor Cities Transitway, or even the minimum requirements to keep up with failing bridge and road repairs across the State. 

Once again, Maryland legislators have put Transportation at the bottom of their priority list, and we are all paying the price.   Please join our mailing list and sign our petition asking Maryland officials to “Invest Now” and address Maryland’s severe transportation funding crisis during the upcoming special session on redistricting.   We cannot wait another year. 

Thank you.