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 !

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.

 

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.

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.     

Maryland’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding, appointed by Governor Martin O’Malley, approved a package of recommendations this week, calling for $870 million in new transportation investment to fix crumbling roads and address the nation’s worst congestion.  The Commission is recommending a constitutional amendment to protect the Transportation Trust Fund from future diversions of funds to non-transportation purposes — a welcome change from our standpoint.  New revenues, including a 15-cent increase in the Maryland gas tax, phased in over three years, increased vehicle registration fees and transit fare hikes are also recommended.  Read more on the Blue Ribbon Commission website.  

Current Costs of Congestion and Deteriorating Facilities FAR OUTWEIGH the Costs of Any Increase in the Gas Tax.  Currently, each Maryland resident is paying almost $1,500 a year in wasted fuel and extra maintenance as a result of crumbling and overcrowded roads, bridges and transit facilities.  In contrast, each 5-cent increase in the gas tax will only cost the average family about $25 per year, well worth the savings in time and money.

Sign SMTA’s “Invest Now” Petition to Show Your Support for Traffic Relief NOW!

Are you tired of wasting an average of 74 hours a year stuck in traffic?  Want to see Maryland’s economy get back on track and create thousands of jobs?  Then YOU NEED TO SIGN OUR ON-LINE PETITION.  It takes less than a minute. Forward this message to others in your network and ask them to do the same.  It’s time to “Invest Now!”  

Maryland’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding, appointed by Governor Martin O’Malley to come up with recommendations to address Maryland’s transportation funding crisis, is close to wrapping up its work.  Its recommendations will be finalized at their October 25th meeting, then conveyed to the Governor and state legislators.  According to the preliminary draft presented to the Commission this week, a package of some $870 million in new transportation investment is being recommended.  This is welcome news! 

Key elements of the package appear to be:  Protecting the Transportation Trust Fund from further “raids” for non-transportation purposes; a 15-cent increase in the Maryland gas tax (phased in over three years in 5-cent increments); and other increased vehicle fees and transit fares.  Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, along with the County Executives from Montgomery, Prince George’s and Howard Counties and the Mayor of Baltimore, have all publicly expressed support for increased transportation funds to pay for needed safety and congestion-relief improvements.  Currently, each Maryland resident is paying almost $1,500 a year in wasted fuel and extra maintenance as a result of crumbling and overcrowded roads, bridges and transit facilities.  In contrast, each 5-cent increase in the gas tax will only cost the average family about $25 per year, well worth the savings in time and money.

Ramping up Maryland’s decimated transportation capital program would also put thousands of local engineering and construction workers back on the job (and back in Maryland stores and restaurants), providing a major boost to our sagging economy.  SMTA strongly supports the kinds of proposals the Commission seems ready to recommend, and calls upon the Maryland General Assembly to enact new dedicated transportation funds and restore the “trust” in the Transportation Trust Fund in this next session of the legislature, which starts in January.  

Read more on the Blue Ribbon Commission website

  

The latest rankings by the Texas Transportation Institute place the Washington DC region at the top of the list, among all major metropolitan areas in the United States, in average travel delays.  Last year, we were tied with Chicago for first place, with an average of 70 hours wasted by each of us from sitting in traffic delays.  This year, the amount of time we waste in traffic has grown to a whopping 74 hours a year, nearly two full work weeks.

When you add up all the lost productivity, tons of wasted fuel, and other costs, each of us is wasting more than $1,400 per year, simply due to congestion.   Just for comparision, each of us would pay about $50 extra per year from a 10-cent increase in the gas tax, which could be used to fund a long list of projects that we know will cut travel times and congestion costs as much as 25%.  I would rather spend $50 to save $350, not to mention all that lost time. 

It is hard to see why state and local leaders are not making transportation investments a more urgent priority.  Voters in our region continue to rank traffic congestion as their number-one priority, yet elected officials continue to ignore transportation almost entirely. 

This has to change.  The Maryland legislature needs to act and it needs to act this year.  At least $800 million per year in new transportation funding has been recommended by the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission, along with new protections against diverting scarce transportation dollars for other uses.

We know exactly what we need to do to reduce congestion in our region.  It starts with building the new transit and road capacity we need to reduce delays and get people back to work.  All that’s missing is the political will among our elected representatives to make this a priority.  Maryland will not be able to sustain any level of economic recovery unless we take on this issue and invest in our infrastructure now.

The Senate has finally acted to extend the authorization for federal spending on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other vital transportation programs, including roads, bridges, and mass transit projects all over the United States.   The bill extends the FAA’s operating authority through January.  Highway and transit programs, and the federal gasoline tax that pays for most of them, were all due to expire on Oct. 1, but now the deadline has been extended through March of 2012. 

Expiration of the federal gas tax would deal a crippling blow to what is left of Maryland’s transportation program, but the threat is not removed, only deferred.  A long-term solution to transportation funding at the state and federal levels remains one of our top priorities, especially in light of our troubled economy.  Continued pressure needs to be directed to our elected officials to support increased investment in transportation capital projects that put people back to work and add lasting economic value to communities.  This is key to getting us out of the current recession.

This week, House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) presented his outline for the new transportation bill that sets transportation policies for both highway and transit funding for the next six years.

From early reports, the new transportation funding bill will not contain sufficient funding to meet the needs that have been identified, especially in the nation’s heavily congested urban corridors (including the Nation’s Capital).  This could mean a critical loss of funding for key projects in our region, including the Purple Line and CCT, as reported in Robert McCartney’s column in today’s Washington Post

On the positive side, it eliminates Congressional earmarks, streamlines decision-making, and realigns priorities so that more transportation revenues from the federal gas tax and other sources will be put to work on the most effective transportation projects, without the kind of politically-inspired diversions to non-transportation purposes we’ve seen in the past. 

The big question is, what will the Senate bill look like, and will it restore sufficient funding to keep key local projects on track?  Transportation infrastructure investment in our nation and the DC region is at a historic low-point, just when our economy needs stimulus and job creation the most. 

This is the first time in our history, when faced with a severe economic recession or depression, that we haven’t  launched a major public works and infrastructure improvement program to help get us out of it.  Last year’s stimulus package contained only a pittance, most of which did not go to transportation capacity improvements.  Why not?  That’s a question only our elected representatives can answer.  Investing in infrastructure has worked every time in the past to provide long-term growth and economic recovery. 

This time, we all know the need is there, but our political leaders in both parties have gone AWOL.

 

With area transportation funds dwindling, and legislators shirking their responsibilities year after year to ensure that dedicated revenues for transportation (like the gas tax) keep pace with inflation and population growth, State officials across the region have little choice but to raise toll rates.  So here is what is coming: 

The toll man cometh

Reason

Tolls for two-axle vehicles

Maryland

Rate before July 1, 2011 As of Oct. 1, 2011 As of July 1, 2013

Hatem Memorial Bridge

$10/year with decal, $5 for trip

$72/year EZPass plan to replace decal, $6 for trip

$8

$132 million in repairs needed

Bay Bridge $2.50

$5

$8

$225 million needed to maintain Bay Bridge over next six years

Nice Bridge $3

$5

$8

$21 million in repairs needed

I-95 Turnpike (Kennedy Highway) $5

$6

$8

$121 million needed for highway work

Francis Scott Key Bridge $2  

$3

$4

$410 million needed for combined work on Fort McHenry, Francis Scott Key and Baltimore Harbor Tunnel repairs

Baltimore Harbor Tunnel $2

$3

$4

see Key Bridge

Fort McHenry Tunnel

$0.90

$2.70

$3

see Key Bridge

ICC $1.45/peak, $1.15/off peak/$.60 overnight

Only toll exempt from raise

Virginia Current

Jan. 1, 2012

Dulles Toll Road

$0.75

$1.50

Dulles Greenway

$3.70 ($4 during peak hours)

$4.50 ($4.80 during peak hours)

The choice we face is clear.  We can: (a) pay a few pennies more at the pump, (b) get used to a lot more tolls and higher transit fares, or (c) watch roads, bridges and transit service deteriorate to the point where the region becomes unliveable, major employers leave, and our economy tanks like Detroit.   Some combination of (a) and (b) would be a lot less damaging to our economy, business climate, and pocketbooks than option (c).