- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
When the 2012 General Assembly session began there was all kinds of enthusiastic talk about propping up — and even safeguarding — much-needed transportation funding. State and business leaders spoke of how transportation infrastructure was the pathway to health and prosperity for Maryland’s economy. Local jurisdictions, meanwhile, clamored for a restoration of highway user revenues, stripped in recent years to help fill budget gaps, so they could take care of basic functions such as filling potholes and snow removal.
Now it’s back to square one. The state’s transportation needs were basically overlooked in the regular session that ended in April and last month’s special session to patch together a final budget.
Gov. Martin O’Malley, whose attempts to apply the state sales tax to gasoline and then to raise the sales tax a penny to pay for transportation projects failed miserably, said previously that Maryland had underinvested in transportation over the past two decades and, he added, “we have the worst congestion in the country.” The governor conveniently ignored the raids, including his own, on the Transportation Trust Fund, including highway user revenues, that helped create the problem.
Maryland has some serious transportation issues that go beyond making sure bridges don’t collapse and road surfaces get patched.
On the drawing board are major undertakings such as the Purple Line, a 16-mile light rail between Bethesda and New Carrollton via Silver Spring that has been discussed for more than 20 years; the 14-mile Red Line, which would run from Woodlawn to east Baltimore; and the Corridor Cities Transitway, a 15-mile project in Montgomery County. All are expensive ventures, to put it mildly.
The price tag for the transit-way is expected to be $828 million. That pales when compared with the projected costs of the Purple Line, at $1.925 billion, and the Red Line, at $2.2 billion.
All of this leaves little state backing for the project most vital to St. Mary’s and Calvert counties — a replacement for the Gov. Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge.
Outgoing Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley said the state will seek Federal Transit Administration funds for at least half of the cost of the transit-way and will explore a public-private partnership as well.
These so-called P3s are an increasingly likely option for projects of this sort, although risks are involved. Will the private partner be as responsive to the public? Will fares be kept in line? How does the state prevent getting stuck in a bad, long-term arrangement?
Even if the state pursues the P3s, a good deal of public funding is needed for most transportation projects. There’s no getting around the need to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund. The Maryland Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding concluded that the state needs an additional $870 million a year in new transportation revenues just to address current needs. That alone reinforces the need for state officials to get serious — finally — about keeping transportation coffers stocked and dedicated.