GBC Transportation Summit speakers focus on solutions to nation’s infrastructure needs

United States Senator Ben Cardin said that traffic congestion is so bad in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. region that people are avoiding the area.

“It’s affecting the quality of life here in our region,” he said. “And yes I could talk about the economics. As you invest money in transit you create jobs. Transit creates jobs for us.”

Cardin was the keynote speaker at the Greater Baltimore Committee’s annual Transportation Summit Sept. 28 at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel. More than 200 attended. The event focused on “What’s Next – How Do We Move Forward with America’s Infrastructure?”

“Mass transit deals with our environment,” Cardin said in an impassioned speech. “It reduces dramatically our carbon footprint. We must do a much better job on mass transit not only in our region but throughout our country.”

Cardin serves on the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, which are critical authorizing committees.

The senator also criticized Governor Larry Hogan’s June decision to kill the Red Line, the 14.1-mile east-west light rail project that would have run to and from Woodlawn on the west side of the city through downtown Baltimore to the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center on the east side, and “significantly reduce” the Purple Line in the Washington, D.C. suburbs.

Senator Cardin room - 1 (093)“Major mistakes, not just for Maryland, but for our country,” he said. “We need to lead on mass transit. When you cut the state commitment the way Governor Hogan has done, it doesn’t help us in Washington to get you more money. The Red Line federal dollars are gone. They’re not coming back to Maryland. This was an opportunity lost – make no mistake about it. It was a self-inflicted wound for the people of Maryland.”

Cardin told the audience he is exploring both traditional and creative ways to fund transportation infrastructure.

Traditional ways include raising the per-gallon gasoline tax, a tax on barrels, trucks and tires as funding sources. He also discussed reducing corporate tax rates to try to encourage companies to move money back into U.S. accounts, rather than shield overseas.

In his opening remarks, Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said we are reaching a crisis situation when it comes to American infrastructure.

“One thing is clear,” he said. “Whatever the source, long-term, predictable funding for the federal program is needed so that states and local governments, working with the federal government, can maintain, rehabilitate and expand our existing public transportation infrastructure which serves millions of Americans daily.

“We need a long-term bill because we cannot build the major capital projects, which often take years to plan and build, under three and six month extensions of the federal program,” he said. “States and communities need the predictability of a long-term federal program to address our transportation needs in a cost-efficient and practical way.”

The Transportation Summit also featured panelists Jack Schenendorf, former chief of staff for the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the United States House of Representatives; Kathryn Ruffalo, former senior adviser to the United States Senate Environment and Public Works Committee; Kellie Mejdrich, a reporter for CQ Roll Call; and Jennifer Scholtes, a reporter for POLITICO Pro.

Jack S at podium (0122)Schenendorf said a lack of political leadership is hindering the development of a long-term solution to America’s transportation infrastructure issues.

“Both political parties have plenty of blame in this,” he said. “Neither party has stepped up to the plate and solved this problem.”

The issue, he said, is coming up with a bill that both parties can agree on that would provide reliable long-term federal funding for transportation infrastructure projects.

“What Congress should be doing is figuring out how to come up with $100 billion – and more,” Schenendorf said. “What you want to do is figure out how to put increased user fees into the trust fund for a permanent solution and to provide for the increased spending that’s needed.

“Make no mistake – this is not a permanent solution,” he said. “We are talking about a three year or six year bill. They will be postponing, once again, the effort to find a permanent solution.”

Ruffalo focused her remarks on funding a long-term transportation bill.

“The biggest challenge to getting a bill is how to pay for it,” she said. “Are there policy differences between the House and Senate? Yes. There’s policy differences, but those not insurmountable. The thing that will continue to keep a bill from being done is how to pay for it. It’s not policy differences.”

Ruffalo said there is not a lack of ideas for how to raise revenue for transportation.

“It’s the political will to do that,” she said.

She urged the audience to regularly communicate with members of Congress to share personal stories with them to showcase what they would do with the funding.

Mejdrich, the CQ Roll Call reporter, said whether or not Congress agrees to a long-term bill boils down to whether lawmakers can make the case for who pays for it.

“If that’s too much of a heavy lift they’re likely going to save the work for later,” she said, “especially because there’s so much assurance that there’s enough money in the highway trust fund to last through the winter.”

Mejdrich said it “looks increasingly unlikely” that any legislation will pass before the end of October.

“What they end up doing is anyone’s guess at this point,” she said. “There’s a lot of attention being paid right now just to see how far we can get with what we have and there’s not a lot of discussion about long-term.”

POLITICO Pro reporter Scholtes painted a picture of opposition at every turn.

“If you can get something going, which has not happened in the House, sometimes you can see a consensus come together and people will make concessions but we need a bill first,” she said. “That’s what we’re waiting on. If we don’t get it done by the end of October, we need to know how long is this short-term patch going to be because that really indicates how much pressure you’re going to have.

“This fall is going to be very telling,” Scholtes said, “because if something doesn’t get done it’s very unlikely things happen in an election year.”

Video and photos from the Transportation Summit:

Watch GBC President and CEO Don Fry’s opening remarks here.

Watch U.S. Senator Ben Cardin’s remarks here.

Watch the panel discussion here.

View photos from the event here.

Press coverage from the Transportation Summit:

Baltimore Business Journal: Losing Red Line a ‘self-inflicted wound’ for Maryland, Ben Cardin tells GBC crowd

Baltimore Business Journal: Ben Cardin: Maryland will likely get FBI headquarters


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