GBC’s Fry: The need to fund transportation

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR

Recently the nation’s attention was riveted on a little known highway, 35W in Minnesota, when a bridge packed with commuters collapsed. As our thoughts and prayers went out the families, we also paused and said to ourselves, how safe am I when I go to work, drive to the store, or ride the light rail. Who is responsible for our transportation network and are they doing a good job?

The larger question is, do they have enough money to do a good job. The answer is, no. In all the talk about the state’s general fund budget deficit, funding for transportation needs has been overlooked. In Maryland, our entire transportation system is funded out of a separate pot of money called the Transportation Trust Fund.

You and I put the money in the trust fund each year through gasoline taxes, motor vehicle registration fees, bus fares, and corporate income taxes. But is there enough to keep up with and add to the state’s 17,000 miles of highways and bridges – mass transit in two major urban centers – 50,000 passengers a day at BWI – and 40 million tons of cargo at the Port?

Once again the answer is no. As early as 1999 a Transportation Funding Study commissioned by the governor documented that there was $27 billion in unmet transportation needs in the state. Today that figure exceeds $40 billion. And the need is growing with BRAC jobs coming into the region in addition to normal growth. The bottom line is that our state will need a minimum of $400 million more a year in the Transportation Trust Fund just to start working on some of our most pressing capital improvements for transportation.

Funding transportation is something we can not ignore. It touches every life in the state and is critical for our economic growth. Without a good transportation system, travel and commerce will grind to a halt. All of us will be looking to the legislature for the kind of leadership we need to figure out how to fully fund the Transportation Trust Fund. Let’s start planning now to figure out the best way to build and maintain the transportation system we need to get around quickly and safely.

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

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