Photo by the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
January means the start of the legislative session for Maryland, and the General Assembly meets tomorrow for the first time. The Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding is likely to recommend a major funding increase for transportation that includes a gas tax hike, but we’ve heard little about a strategic plan for where to put that money.
The Commission is not set up to adequately evaluate the underlying causes of our transportation problems or ask what we should buy with an increase in revenues. Poor land use planning that allows leapfrog development, scattered employment sites, and a failure to tie growth to transit service have all contributed to more traffic, and these issues can’t be solved by a massive road building program.
Writing a blank check for transportation spending without a strategic approach to what we fund is a recipe for failure.
Our transportation solutions must begin with revitalization of our cities, towns and older suburbs, and transit-oriented and walkable/bikeable mixed-use communities. The projects we fund should support this smart growth future to prepare us for a world where we need to reduce our oil dependency, bring down greenhouse gas emissions, and more effectively address traffic.
We also need to address our aging infrastructure. Eight percent of Maryland bridges are structurally deficient, yet the state is short changing its annual road and bridge maintenance needs by nearly $100 million. Metro faces daunting challenges aggravated by delayed maintenance and long overdue capital equipment replacement. MARC trains and service are a mess, yet the state put the much needed MARC Growth and Investment Plan (PDF) on the shelf, while advancing a proposed $3.4 billion plan to widen I-270.
Before we support a gas tax or other funding increase for transportation we need to see the state adopt a strategic approach that includes:
- A fix-it-first policy that fully funds maintenance and repair of existing roads, bridges and transit to a state of good repair;
- Addressing the travel needs of existing communities and businesses by tying investments to land use decisions — especially redevelopment — that ensure we make the most of existing infrastructure;
- Offering expanded and more affordable transportation options, including walking, bicycling, and better bus and rail service;
- Reducing energy consumption and enhancing environmental protection by evaluating projects based on how they will support a more energy efficient and clean water and air future.
Laura DeSantis is the Online Advocacy and Outreach Specialist for the Coalition for Smarter Growth.