With the question of how to fund Maryland’s Purple Line as a backdrop, Montgomery County leaders assembled stakeholders from across the state in Annapolis last week to weigh solutions to the state’s transportation funding shortage.
A 2011 report by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding recommended the state find $870 million in new annual revenue for the state Transportation Trust Fund from a mix of sources, including the gas tax. Over the years, Maryland governors have raided the trust fund to balance the budget, and the fund is projected to be dry by 2017.
Councilman George L. Leventhal, who helped organize the Regional Transportation Funding Summit, said that without dedicated state funding there is no Purple Line — a 16-mile light rail line planned to connect Bethesda and New Carrollton.
The Dec. 12 summit in Annapolis reinforced the commitment of those who attended to press the General Assembly to do what needs to be done to replenish transportation dollars, said Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park.
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said that eight years ago he warned that unless Maryland dealt with its transportation challenges, it would stymie growth, increase project costs, and the trust fund would continue to erode.
“We did not heed that warning,” he said.
MDOT has started designing the Purple Line but the state has not dedicated money to build it.
The funding set aside for design runs out in 2014, and the state is required to identify its funding going forward before the federal government will consider subsidizing the projects.
The estimated price tag of the project also has climbed. The Purple Line now tops $2.1 billion up from $1.9 billion.
Howard County Executive Kenneth S. Ulman (D) questioned previous approaches to push for more transportation funding at the summit.
“How many more panels, how many more meetings are we going to have before we do something different?” he asked. Ulman suggested mounting a campaign to get a message to citizens that it is worth paying more, in one way or another, to be able to get home in a decent amount of time. Washington, D.C., area commuters lose about 74 hours a year in traffic, according to a 2011 study by the Texas Transportation Institute.
But Leventhal said raising the statewide gas tax remains the fairest option for growing transportation revenue and the option favored locally. The current gas tax is 23.5 cents per gallon.
“I believe that if Gov. [Martin] O’Malley puts his considerable political muscle behind it, it can pass,” he said of an increase. “Sometimes in Annapolis, issues have to surface and resurface over and over, and in this case 2013 is the year.”
Efforts to raise the gas tax 15 cents, over three years, failed in the last General Assembly. The state’s gas tax hasn’t increased in two decades and remains below the national average of 30.9 cents.
Traditional state resources will be insufficient to fully fund projects like the Purple Line or maintain the traditional balance in MDOT’s capital program, according to a Department of Legislative Services presentation.
Breakout sessions at the summit illuminated other funding options, including public-private partnerships, tolling, local revenue options and capturing the increased land values adjacent to projects.
Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Dist. 21) of College Park said he and Del. Brian J. Feldman (D-Dist. 15) of Potomac plan to reintroduce their End the Gridlock constitutional amendment to grant legislative authority for creating a comprehensive transportation investment plan.