GBC transportation summit speakers call for federal funding overhaul, long-range strategies and goals

Oregon Congressman Earl BlumenauerTwo U.S. Congressional leaders and three expert panelists who participated in the Greater Baltimore Committee’s inaugural Regional Transportation Summit on June 16 all echoed one common theme: fundamental changes are needed in the way transportation infrastructure is funded in the U.S. and in Maryland.

Most agreed the current federal transportation funding process, which expires in 2009, needs a serious overhaul. New funding policy should be based on long-range planning, strategic goals and outcomes, and on comprehensive policies that integrate transportation resources with other national and local priorities, said the presenters.

Maryland Senator Benjamin L. CardinPhysical infrastructure in the U.S. “is in desperate need of attention,” said Maryland Senator Benjamin L. Cardin.

Cardin said, in his opinion, linking transportation funding to revenues from legislation imposing fees for excessive carbon dioxide emissions could be the most effective way to generate new federal funding for highways and transit.

The current federal transportation funding process consists mostly of a “project mentality, not a long-term vision,” said Anne P. Canby, president of the Surface Transportation Policy Project. She noted there are more than 100 federal transportation programs and that lawmakers spend much time “just trying to get votes for programs to please niche constituencies.”

Anne P. Canby, president of the Surface Transportation Policy ProjectShe called for a new transportation funding policy that includes “some national goals” and instills “a clear sense of federal interest and purpose.”

Maryland Secretary of Transportation John D. Porcari called the state’s six metropolitan planning organizations “missing pieces of the puzzle,” and said that they are essentially “dysfunctional.”

Maryland transportation planners have “missed an opportunity” in not-linking transportation to land-use planning, he said.

Most speakers said they favor seeking ways to give local governments more flexibility in how to use federal transportation funding.

Maryland Secretary of Transportation John D. PorcariPorcari suggested that federal transportation funding should move to a “block grant concept” with performance measures.

Robert Puentes, a fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program of the Brookings Institution said the current federal process for funding transportation projects in states is “absent, outdated, and compartmentalized. (Robert Puentes’ PowerPoint presentation to summit participants)

“There is no focus on outcomes,” Puentes said. “The emphasis is on more spending, not better policy.”

Robert Puentes, a fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program of the Brookings InstitutionMost speakers favored finding ways to develop federal and state transportation funding policies that are based on comprehensive, long-term strategies that integrate transportation decisions with other high priority issues.

There needs to be a “change in the nature” of the federal-state partnerships with regard to funding transportation and other needs, said Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, the closing keynote speaker.

“It’s time to develop a comprehensive sense of where we’re going on key issues, including energy, transportation, and climate, which are all interrelated,” he said.

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