GBC’s Fry: A critical tipping point for Maryland’s transportation funding

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR

In a commentary last month, I made the point that funding for transportation needs has been overlooked amid the public discussion about closing the state’s projected $1.5 billion General Fund operating deficit.

So, I was encouraged when Governor Martin O’Malley recently pledged to introduce a major transportation funding bill in the next session of the General Assembly. Strengthening funding for Maryland’s transportation infrastructure is, in my opinion, the most significant economic development challenge currently facing our state.

O’Malley has also said that he is working to achieve a consensus with state Senate and House leaders and wants to call a special session in the fall to address the state’s fiscal challenges. It’s important that transportation funding be a key part of that session’s agenda. Increasing annual funding for bridges, highways, transit, port and airport facilities by as much as $600 million per year is needed.

Here’s why.

Entirely separate from the General Fund, Maryland’s Transportation Trust Fund has reached a tipping point. In the next fiscal year, the portion of the fund required for transportation infrastructure maintenance will begin to eclipse the amount available for new capital projects.

Because the state’s gas tax and other major sources of transportation funding are not inflation sensitive – and because federal funding is tightening – overall available transportation funding is projected to actually decrease in the next four years. In the process, annual funding for new capital projects will decrease by as much as $600 million per year by fiscal 2012, according to state projections.

This comes at time when the state faces at least a $40 billion backlog of planned, but unfunded capital transportation projects.

In Maryland, superior highways and transportation facilities have always played a central role in sustaining a strong economy and a high quality of life. Increasing transportation funding is a top fiscal priority that our state’s leaders must not be tempted to defer.

For the Regional Business Report, this is Don Fry, President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, for 88.1 WYPR, your NPR news station.

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