State, local leaders share transportation woes -- Gazette.Net







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With the question of how to fund Maryland’s Purple and Red lines as a backdrop, public and private leaders from across the state met this week to brainstorm solutions to the state’s transportation funding shortage.

A 2011 report by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding recommended the state find $870 million in new annual revenue for the state Transportation Trust Fund from a mix of sources, including the gas tax. Over the years, governors have raided thetrust fund to balance the budget, and the fund is projected to be dry by 2017.

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) told a group of stakeholders gathered Wednesday in Annapolis for a Regional Transportation Funding Summit that eight years ago he warned that unless Maryland dealt with its transportation challenges, it would stymie growth, increase project costs, and the trust fund would continue to erode.

“We did not heed that warning,” he said.

The state must now act before it is too late, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) warned.

“If we don’t get it done this year, we may not get it done for the next eight years,” he said of finding a solution to the state’s transportation challenges.

MDOT has started designing the Purple and Red lines — two light-rail projects that would expand transit in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore — but has not dedicated state money to build either one.

The funding set aside to design the projects runs out in 2014, and the state is required to identify its funding going forward before the federal government will consider subsidizing the projects.

Estimated cost of the projects also have climbed. The Red Line now tops $2.5 billion, up from the previous $2.2 billion, while the Purple Line has gone from $1.9 billion to $2.1 billion.

Howard County Executive Kenneth S. Ulman (D) questioned previous approaches to push for more transportation funding.

“How many more panels, how many more meetings are we going to have before we do something different?” he asked. Ulman suggested mounting a campaign to get a message to citizens that it is worth paying more, in one way or another, to be able to get home in a decent amount of time. Washington, D.C., area commuters lose about 74 hours a year in traffic, according to a 2011 study by the Texas Transportation Institute.

Montgomery Councilman George L. Leventhal (D), who helped organize the summit, said raising the statewide gasoline tax remains the fairest option for growing transportation revenue.

The current gas tax is 23.5 cents per gallon. Efforts to raise the gas tax 15 cents, over three years, in the last general session failed. The state’s gas tax hasn’t increased in two decades.

Traditional state resources will be insufficient to fully fund the projects and maintain the traditional balance in MDOT’s capital program, according to a Department of Legislative Services presentation.

Breakout sessions at the summit illuminated additional funding options, including public-private partnerships, tolling, local revenue options and capturing the increased land values adjacent to projects.

Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Dist. 21) of College Park said he and Del. Brian J. Feldman (D-Dist. 15) of Potomac plan to reintroduce their End the Gridlock constitutional amendment to grant legislative authority for creating a comprehensive transportation investment plan.