GBC’s Fry: Latest congestion report underscores Maryland’s need for more transportation funding

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR:

The Texas Transportation Institute’s recent annual report on highway traffic shows that traffic congestion eased slightly in the nation’s urban areas as a whole – but not in Baltimore and Maryland.

Nationwide, the average number of hours wasted by commuters in traffic jams dropped slightly. But Baltimore area commuters wasted 44 hours in traffic congestion – the same as last year. Meanwhile, the number of wasted hours for Washington-area commuters increased from 59 to 62.

If you think, as it appears that many of elected officials do in Annapolis, that Maryland doesn’t need to make funding transportation infrastructure a higher priority; take a look at the numbers. The Baltimore region is the 14th most congested among 400 urban areas in the U.S. The Washington, D.C. region ranks second.

Roadway congestion in the Baltimore-Washington region costs more than $3 billion a year, including $1 billion in the Baltimore area.

Even knowing these statistics, leaders in Annapolis have not assigned a high priority to addressing the more than $40 billion backlog of state highway, transit, port and airport projects that are planned, but not funded for construction.

For years lawmakers have allowed revenues to Maryland’s Transportation Trust Fund to stagnate. The per-gallon gas tax rate hasn’t been increased since 1992. Lawmakers did act in 2007 to add an estimated $400 million annually to the transportation fund. But they later took back $50 million per year to cover the repeal of the computer services tax, and the recession wiped out the remaining projected increases.

Since 2000, annual revenue to the Transportation Trust Fund has increased only 28 percent while revenues to the state’s general operating fund increased by 59 percent.

It’s not as if, during the last nine years, Maryland hasn’t spent money on top-tier priorities. It’s just that transportation infrastructure hasn’t been one.

Traffic congestion persists as a crippling problem in Maryland. If we value mobility as a key element of our economic prosperity and quality of life, we need to get serious about strengthening our transportation resources.

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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