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Purple Line

Purple Line Decision May Come in June

After several meetings with Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn and other senior Hogan Administration figures, SMTA and other Purple Line supporters continue to present our case.  Today, County Executives Ike Leggett and Rushern Baker met with Governor Larry Hogan in Annapolis.  Initial press reports indicate it went pretty well, but it now seems likely a decision won’t be made until June.

See the two articles below for details. 

http://wtop.com/sprawl-crawl/2015/05/gov-hogan-hears-purple-line-pitch-from-county-executives/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/montgomery-prince-georges-leaders-make-final-pitch-for-purple-line/2015/05/20/760f4f12-ff1a-11e4-8b6c-0dcce21e223d_story.html

We encourage all SMTA supporters to continue making the case that the transportation and economic benefits of the Purple Line make this a worthwhile project, and it will be one of the topics discussed at our Transportation Summit on June 12th, along with SMTA’s other regional priority projects. Register here for the Summit.

SMTA Weighs in Again on Purple Line Debate

Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance (SMTA) Vice Chair, Richard Parsons, spoke out strongly in favor of the Purple Line at a recent debate at the AFI Theater in Silver Spring, organized by the Maryland Public Policy Institute.  Parsons squared off against noted transit critic, Randall O’Toole of the Cato Foundation.

Parsons made the case that both the economic development the Purple Line would bring — tens of thousands of new jobs every year in addition to thousands of short-term construction jobs — and the transportation benefits from creating a regional transportation network by linking existing metro lines together into a more robust system — would be well worth the $2.5 billion investment.

The debate was featured in several articles including this one in the Gazette.

SMTA is urging our members to contact Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to support construction of the Purple Line as soon as possible.

Business Leaders Make their Case for Purple Line

Business leaders from the Greater Washington Board of Trade, Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce, Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, other local Chambers and leaders in the building industry from across the Washington Region came together today at the University of Maryland for a strategy session with top political leaders on advancing the Purple Line, which is due to begin construction by the end of 2015.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has included initial funding in his first budget, and will be making a final decision on the project after a 90-day review period that coincides with an ongoing bid process involving dozens of private-sector firms seeking to participate in a public-private partnership to help fund and build the Purple Line.

Citing its profoundly positive economic impacts, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, and County Council Chairs George Leventhal and Mel Franklin from the same counties, joined the mainly business crowd in calling upon the Governor to approve the project, which remains one of SMTA’s priority near-term projects.

The economic return on this $2.4 billion investment is significant — new studies indicate that over a 30-year period the Purple Line would create over 27,000 jobs, increase surrounding property values by $9.8 billion, and generate a positive return to federal, state and local governments of over $10 billion, or nearly 5 times the proposed investment.

The state is facing financial strains, and other pressing transportation needs to be funded to be sure, but the vast majority of the funding already committed to the Purple Line is project-specific and cannot be re-purposed (including some $900 million in federal funds that will go to another state if not used for the Purple Line).  The fact is, cutting the Purple Line now, as it nears the finish line in a decades-long review process, would be a huge setback for Maryland businesses, the local economy, and future state tax revenues.

The project is nearly shovel-ready and is slated to begin construction by the end of this Fiscal Year.  This means its benefits — including tens of thousands of new construction jobs, rising incomes and improved property values — will begin to be felt right away, providing an almost immediate boost to state and local revenues (without raising tax rates).  Not doing so would have the opposite effect, and could set back prospects for other public-private-partnerships significantly by discouraging other bidders from stepping forward.

In our view, the case for the Purple Line has been made.  It is a sound business investment and should move forward now, not later.  With a newly elected Governor committed to job growth and economic competitiveness as his top priorities, SMTA and the business leaders at today’s meeting all share the belief that the Purple Line would go a long way to get us there.

 

Purple Line May Face New Post-Election Hurdles

Purple Line mapThe Purple Line, a long-debated light-rail transit line running from the Bethesda through Silver Spring, College Park and eventually connecting all the way to New Carrollton, may be facing new hurdles with the election of Larry Hogan as Maryland’s next Governor.  As reported in the Washington Post, during the campaign Hogan expressed skepticism regarding the need for the Purple Line, though he later moderated his comments and now says he will keep an open mind.  We hope so.

SMTA has long supported the Purple Line as an important suburb-to-suburb connection between key activity centers on both ends of the Metro Red Line, as well as the Green and Orange Lines.  It creates a far more robust transit backbone for suburban Maryland communities and brings with it significant economic development and job-creation benefits.  Moreover, the Purple Line enjoys overwhelming support from voters in the DC suburbs and enjoys strong backing from the local business community — including all the local Chambers of Commerce and the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

While the new political terrain in Maryland may pose new challenges, and perhaps a new round of questions regarding the most cost-effective way to build the Purple Line, it is hard to see the project itself coming to a halt at this point.  Millions has already been invested in right-of-way acquisition, planning and engineering, and prior studies indicate significant economic and transportation benefits.

Maryland leaders should always seek to maximize taxpayers’ return on investment on major projects like this, so such questions should be asked (and have been).  However, we find that often the best way to reduce cost is to push for swift completion of projects to avoid the cost inflation that always comes from delay and inaction.

When it comes to the Purple Line, and other priority transportation projects in the Greater Washington region, it may be that further delay is the most expensive option of all.

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.