GBC prods state for strategy on transportation and energy infrastructure

The Greater Baltimore Committee is calling for state lawmakers to stop reaching for political “quick fixes” in dealing with Maryland’s two top infrastructure challenges — transportation and energy.

Instead, the state’s elected leaders must develop and follow through on long-term strategies to address Maryland’s $40 billion backlog of unfunded transportation projects and to build electricity transmission and generation resources to meet increasing demand, GBC Chairman Atwood “Woody” Collins III said in remarks at the GBC’s annual meeting on May 7.

A sell-out crowd of more than 900 GBC members and guests attended the GBC meeting at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore hotel, which also featured guest keynote speaker Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s “Hardball.”

“When it comes to the critical issues of transportation and energy supply, we must not let political quick fixes of the moment dictate long-term strategy,” said Collins, president of M&T Bank’s Mid-Atlantic division.

Collins and GBC president and CEO Donald C. Fry chided state lawmakers for increasing annual transportation funding by $400 million last fall and then, four months later, raiding the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, diverting $50 million a year to balance the state’s operating budget.

“Our state took a positive step forward in the special session in November 2007 and one step back during the 2008 regular session,” said Fry. This “serves to underscore our determination to work harder “ on the transportation funding issue, he said.

The GBC will host a Transportation Summit on June 16 to assess the depth of Maryland’s looming transportation infrastructure challenge and explore potential ways to address it, Fry announced.

Fry also announced that the GBC will convene a private-sector workgroup to examine options for funding highways, transit, port and airport facilities since state lawmakers have made it clear that increasing the gas tax — the traditional source for transportation funding — is not an option. The GBC estimates that at least $200 million per year in additional revenue is needed for the Transportation Trust Fund to adequately address Maryland’s transportation infrastructure needs.

Additionally, the GBC will study the feasibility of creating a regional transportation authority as a “more effective method” of setting regional transportation priorities and providing funding.

Meanwhile, Maryland’s electricity generation and transmission infrastructure is aging, said Collins, noting that 60 percent of the state’s electric power infrastructure is more than 30 years old. What’s more, 22 percent of electricity sold in the state is imported, and growing demand could force usage restrictions and rolling as soon as 2011, he added.

The state must aggressively pursue energy conservation initiatives that will decrease electricity consumption, but such measures will not be enough. The state must develop strategies and policies that will upgrade its electricity infrastructure, including construction of new, environmentally compliant generating, transmission, and distribution resources, said Collins.

To do so will require a different mindset among Maryland’s elected leaders. “During the rush of a legislative session, lawmakers tend to focus on tactics, not long-term strategy,” Collins said. “The Governor, General Assembly leaders and business advocates must find a way to evolve this annual legislative number-crunching exercise into a more strategic and more effective outcome.”

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