Advocates show spirited support in Annapolis for more transportation funding
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Members of a statewide coalition of business organizations, businesses and transportation advocates filled Lawyers Mall in Annapolis January 19 to rally and urge lawmakers to address the state's transportation funding crisis by increasing revenue to Maryland's Transportation Trust Fund and enacting protections to ensure the fund is used for transportation purposes.
"For two straight years, there have been no new projects in the state's annual six-year capital budget for transportation, Greater Baltimore Committee president and CEO Donald C. Fry told a spirited crowd of executives and employees of construction companies, engineering firms and other businesses from across the state who gathered for the rally.
"Over the years the case has been made for transportation funding. Now is the time for action."
Players in every proverbial ball court were out in the chilly weather in support of the gas tax increase. From suits to neon vests, supporters held signs saying, "Jobs Jobs Jobs" and "Roads = Jobs." (See what supporters had to say in the videos below.)
The rally was conducted by the Statewide Alliance for Restoring the Trust (START). The coalition is comprised of the GBC, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, more than a dozen county and local chambers of commerce, and more than 50 organizations and businesses. It seeks to convince members of the General Assembly to adopt recommendations made by the state's Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding to increase annual revenue to the transportation fund by $800 million.
In addition to beginning to address a massive transportation backlog of unfunded highway, transit, port and airport infrastructure projects, increasing transportation funding will enable work to resume on now-dormant projects that will create thousands of jobs in the construction industry and associated sectors, which have been severely affected by the recession, according to START advocates.
"At the end of the day, this is all about jobs," said Jim Russ, president of the Maryland Transportation Builders and Materials Association. Members of his organization are "the most conservative group of people you're going to know. We're engineers, we're contracting people, we're construction people and materials people. We know we don't want to throw our tax dollars away."
But infrastructure spending is a "proven economic generator," said Russ, noting that his members are experiencing an average unemployment in the 20-30 percent range. "And we have companies here today that are well over 50 percent in layoffs."
Several speakers noted transportation infrastructure is also a quality of life issue as well as an economic issue, and the crowd shook gas cans with a dime inside in support.
"You can't run a world-class society on a third-rate transportation system," said AAA Mid-Atlantic president Lon Anderson, citing a recent Pew Institute study on the nation's transportation funding crisis.
Revenue to the Maryland's Transportation Trust Fund has stagnated over the last two decades, largely because the state has not increased the per-gallon gas tax - the state's largest source of transportation revenue - since 1992. The result is a massive backlog, estimated to be at least $50 billion, in state highway, transit, port and airport projects that are planned but not funded for construction.
Meanwhile, traffic congestion in Maryland - now documented to be among the worst in the nation - is estimated to cost Maryland's economy more than $3 billion annually. During the last 30 years, the number of peak period travelers in Maryland has increased 71 percent, while the number of lane miles of road has increased only 35 percent, according to the Texas Transportation Institute.
Tim Butera, a member of Laborers Local 710 and representing the Laborers Cooperation Trust, said he and Maryland commuters stuck in traffic on some of the nation's most congested highways "are ejecting money out of our tailpipes that could be spent on building roads and transit systems in the state."