The public differences between the Governor’s Office and the Maryland Legislature over transportation this year have been well documented. The Maryland travelling public and the Maryland highway industry have both been deeply hurt by political jockeying over the last decade. Deteriorating highway conditions and rising automotive maintenance costs are spiraling out of control. We are all aware of the animosity created by SB 908/HB1013, my question is, are any transportation advocates in Maryland focused on the important issues?
I believe we may have let political posturing cloud our overall view of Transportation in Maryland. In 2006 income to the Maryland Transportation Trust Fund was $2.88 billion with $516 million of this money allocated to local jurisdictions for their transportation needs HUR (highway user’s revenue). Maryland has shared transportation revenues with local jurisdictions since the 1920’s and this has been legally mandated since 1970. Six years later in 2012 the trust fund received that same $2.88 billion in revenues. However, things changed dramatically as the Governor and the Maryland Legislature chose to only share $147 million with local jurisdictions. This is a $369 million transfer of transportation dollars to the General Fund proposed by Governor O’Malley and supported by the Maryland Legislature. The following year transportation revenues increased dramatically, an additional $880 million dollars found its way into the Maryland Highway Trust Fund. With such a large increase it would seem logical that highway user’s revenues would be restored to at least the 2006 levels. This would leave over half a billion dollars in new transportation money for DOT. Of course this did not happen! Possibly because of poor judgement. In any case, only $16 million in additional funds were returned to local jurisdictions.
Although not easy to quantify the surface conditions of Maryland’s aging highway infrastructure has been neglected. Ride quality is not what it used to be, and pot holes are everywhere. You can visit any urban SHA maintenance shop and find literally hundreds of potholes within a one mile radius.
A serious part of our transportation problem is transit related. In 2012, 57% of the entire DOT operating budget went to fund transit operations while only 13% went to the Highway Administration. The picture on the Capital side of the budget was slightly better with highways receiving 44% of the money and transit receiving only 35% of the DOT budget. This is dramatically unbalanced as transit only moves about 4% of the people in Maryland and the majority of those 4% still travel on our highways since most transit vehicles are buses which operate on Maryland roadways. Only a few transit vehicles utilize fixed rail. Should we have a comparison study of the per rider costs for bus riders versus light rail riders?
Governor Hogan promised full restoration of HUR monies if he were elected to 2 four year terms. His support of this campaign promise has been somewhat weak. This year’s commitment was at the same low level which we have become accustomed to. The difference being that a conference committee of the Maryland Senate and the Maryland Legislature stripped even this meager amount. There are no HUR monies for fiscal 2017. Where is the outrage from the Governor, the Secretary of Transportation, County Executives, Maryland elected representative and the Maryland highway users?
We need to voice a significant protest of the status quo. Highway resurfacing and maintenance must become a priority. I suggest we submit legislation next session which requires full and immediate restoration for funding of HUR monies. In addition we need a prioritized system for highway preservation work funded at a much higher level than in recent years. Do to the poor condition of our state highways, Maryland should consider doubling its highway resurfacing budget until our system is revitalized.
We must take action now to secure a safe and adequate highway system for Marylanders. Safety first, highway user’s revenues second roadway surface condition third, capacity improvements fourth with transit following behind these priorities.
Graph taken from State and Local Transportation Funding in Maryland – Department of Legislative Services, Office of Policy Analysis, Annapolis, Maryland 2013