Daily Record: Feds pass two-year transportation funding bill


by Lizzy McLellan

Published: July 3, 2012

Highway and transit projects that are underway in Maryland will be able to proceed with the U.S. Congress’ passage of a two-year transportation bill.

And while it was the first long-term transportation measure passed by Congress since 2005, the bill will do little more than maintain the current level of federal funding for transportation projects.

“It provides us that security to continue to plan and execute our transportation programs,” said Erin Henson, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Transportation. “It doesn’t provide for a great number of projects that could be added.”

The “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act,” also known as “MAP-21,” passed Friday with little time to spare before the Fourth of July recess and only one day before the federal government would have lost its power to levy taxes on gasoline and diesel.

MAP-21 will provide more than $100 billion for projects across the country. Since the last authorization bill expired in September 2009, Congress has passed nine short-term spending extensions.

“While the duration of this legislation is shorter than we would have liked, the commitment of federal dollars provides us with a critical path forward,” Gov. Martin O’Malley said in a statement Friday.

O’Malley emphasized the importance of transportation funding in job creation, saying that the bill will preserve almost 10,000 jobs in Maryland transportation.

“I’m certainly pleased to see that Congress saw the importance of having an authorization for a two-year period of time at least, so that we could keep people working,” said Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, which has been a strong advocate for increased transportation funding in Maryland. “I think it’s a positive sign that they were able to put aside some of their partisan differences … but again this is really another two-year stopgap effort.”

The bill keeps federal gasoline and diesel taxes at current levels and lightens restrictions on how states can spend federal transportation money.

“It’s not the bold, visionary transportation authorization that many had hoped for,” said Fry, but creating a bill at that level would have required in increase in revenue.

“The federal government has not increased its gas tax since 1993 … it’s not likely to happen less than six months before an election,” he said.

Under MAP-21, said Henson, Maryland will receive about $580.5 million for highways and $197.4 million for transit in fiscal 2013, as well as $585.4 million for highways and $200.4 million for transit in 2014. In fiscal 2012, these figures were $580.5 million and $168.7 million.

The slight increase, said Fry, should account for inflation.

Had the bill not passed, some of the state’s transportation projects in progress would have eventually come to a halt, Henson said.

Most of these federally funded projects, said Henson, are for the preservation and maintenance of roads. They include projects on major highways in Maryland such as resurfacing and patching.

As for the “bold, visionary” authorization, Fry said that perhaps it will come in 2014, when MAP-21 expires.

“You can’t just keep putting a band aid on things,” said Fry. “Hopefully at some point in the future we can get serious about some of the needs that we have in transportation.”

Source: Daily Record


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