Where’s the Money?
The State of Maryland has impressive plans to better connect its economic centers and reduce traffic, including Baltimore’s Red Line and the Washington area’s Purple Line, Montgomery County’s Corridor Cities Transitway, modernizing and expanding MARC commuter rail and Metro, as well as other key priorities.
But it has not identified the money to pay for these projects. And without money, these projects will never be built.
Maryland finances transportation projects through its Transportation Trust Fund. The fund collects money from gas taxes, titling taxes, vehicle registration fees, federal aid, bond sales and other sources and spends them on capital projects. The problem is that most of these funding sources are not keeping pace with the state’s needs.
The gas tax has been set at the same rate (23.5 cents a gallon) since 1992. Over that period of time, construction costs have roughly doubled. Titling taxes have been hit by the recession and are only now starting to recover. Federal aid is not likely to increase and may not even remain stable. In the meantime, the state faces rapidly increasing costs for maintaining its existing transportation network.
Maryland’s transportation funding situation is so dire that state analysts recently told the General Assembly, “By fiscal 2018, special fund highway capital spending will be focused solely on system preservation.” (i.e. maintenance and repair). In other words, the state will be stuck in traffic, no longer able to build any new projects.
The state’s own Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding declared:
Maryland’s highly-regarded transportation network is the lifeblood of the State, directly affecting every citizen and the essential viability of our economy. Yet the State’s transportation system finds itself on the verge of financial collapse unless action is taken now to change course for a new, more secure, heading.
Maryland is approaching a critical point. It has no additional money to invest in MARC or Metro. Major transit projects like – Baltimore’s Red Line, the Washington area’s Purple Line and Montgomery County’s Corridor Cities Transitway, not to mention expansion of MARC – have no construction money. All of these projects are in competition with the rest of the nation for federal funding. Unless Maryland can show that it has a plan to pay for at least half the costs of these projects, they will not receive federal funding and other states will get their money instead. We will fall further and further behind.
If we ever want to see these transit projects built, the state must provide construction funding NOW.