Donald Fry: MDOT’s $12 billion list: top transportation priorities of Maryland counties

By Donald C. Fry

As lawmakers begin to examine and debate Governor O’Malley’s gas tax proposal to increase transportation revenue, they could gain valuable perspective on the issue by taking a look at a $12 billion list compiled by the Maryland Department of Transportation.

The list identifies 24 transportation projects that are the single top priorities for the state’s 23 counties and Baltimore City. The list, which does not include the three or four other projects identified by each county, nevertheless starkly illuminates the wide breadth of transportation needs across the state and the depth of Maryland’s transportation infrastructure funding crisis.

Top-priority unfunded transportation projects in Baltimore-region jurisdictions range from construction of the light rail Red Line in Baltimore City to widen MD 32 from two lanes to four between MD 26 in Carroll County to MD 108 in Howard County, which was listed as top priorities in both counties.

Other top transportation priorities in the Baltimore region are: widening and intersection improvements along MD 175 in Anne Arundel County, MARC transit-oriented development around the Martin Airport site in Baltimore County, and BRAC-related road safety and capacity improvements in Harford County.

For jurisdictions outside the Baltimore region, top-priority transportation projects include construction of the Purple Line between New Carrolton and Bethesda, widening and safety improvements along MD 404 in Caroline County – a major route to the shore – building new bridges in Calvert, Kent and Talbot counties, and a major upgrade and relocation of US 220 between I-68 and the West Virginia line in Allegany County.

So far I’ve listed just half of the projects on MDOT’s $12 billion list of top local priorities.

What do all of the projects on the list have in common? None is currently funded for construction, nor will construction work begin on any of them until more revenue is generated for the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, MDOT Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley told county elected leaders during meetings in the fall to outline the state’s six-year Consolidated Transportation Program.

For at least two years, no new transportation projects have been funded for construction. Stagnant transportation revenue has forced the state to fund primarily operations and maintenance activities on the state’s existing transportation resources.

Meanwhile, the 24 top priorities of Maryland’s local jurisdictions are just the tip of a much larger list of tens of billions more in projects that are languishing as the state’s decades-old transportation infrastructure funding crisis continues to build.

Any rational person who looks at these lists – or at MDOT’s six-year Consolidated Transportation Program – can’t avoid concluding that there is a massive backlog of unmet need in every corner of the state for transportation infrastructure projects.

Few in Annapolis rationally argue the need for these projects that are critical to our state’s economic climate and quality of life. But rancorous debate will center around when, and how, to begin meeting this compelling need.

Before engaging, lawmakers should take a look at MDOT’s $12 billion list and consider a few important things:

First, the need is so great that, even with a revenue increase to the transportation fund, not all of the projects on this priority list would likely be able to begin to move forward.

Second, without an increase in transportation revenue, none of them will.

Finally, the need and cost will not go away with time. Delaying the solution will only result in worsening congestion and increasing the price of the solution.

These are the decisions our leaders were elected to make. Let’s hope that they can put ideology and political expediency behind them and do what’s best for Maryland’s economic future.

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