Open forum: Getting there from here — transportation leadership required
With the state's recent announcement of $1.1 billion in deferments of transportation projects, we in Montgomery County find ourselves spinning our wheels. Our No. 1 congestion relief project — the construction of an interchange to replace the stoplights at Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road — will be delayed at least three years.
Our two major transit projects, the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway, were slashed by $25 million (19 percent) and $42.5 million (47 percent), respectively, over the next six years. Also on the chopping block are $5 million from the Ride On grant, $16 million from BRAC, $3 million from the Montgomery Hills Project Planning Study and $6.5 million from the Interstate 270 Watkins Mill interchange.
This is absolutely unacceptable. It's time to get serious about transportation funding. Delaying these projects is only going to lead to higher costs in the long run. Canceling them altogether, as some have suggested, will lead to environmentally destructive sprawl and crippling congestion. Some may think we can't afford the cost, but we really can't afford a future that leaves commuters paralyzed by gridlock and isolates the emerging business sectors of the state. It's time to act.
The fiscal mess comes as no surprise to anyone. The inadequacy of transportation funding has been crystal clear for years at every level of government. In Maryland, hundreds of millions of dollars have been siphoned out of transportation funding. The Transportation Trust Fund — paid for by Maryland residents through the gas tax — has been the state's piggy bank over the last two administrations. It doesn't matter which party is in the governor's mansion; borrowing from the TTF has been a non-partisan easy solution to shortfalls in other areas of the budget. Of course, there are promises to pay the money back, but they are as reliable as derivative swaps on Wall Street. Memories fade as the math becomes more incomprehensible over time, and the debt to the TTF remains outstanding.
Some people have suggested halting major infrastructure projects like the Purple Line or the Intercounty Connector as a budget balancing measure, but there is a flaw in the argument. With programs and direct services, such as after-school activities or community policing, we see the benefit of spending almost immediately. With infrastructure, though, we face delayed gratification even in the best of circumstances. What's worse, we don't feel the pain of a poor choice until it is way too late. If a transportation project takes 10 years from concept to completion, and we delay that project for a year or two or even more, then we create a bigger mess down the road, so to speak.
What's the bottom line? We have to stop raiding the Transportation Trust Fund, take a hard look at the gas tax and consider innovative funding solutions.
Times are tough, that's for sure. While we will leave the protection of Wall Street to Congress, our job locally is to invest in Main Street so we can create and preserve its jobs and tax revenue and the mobility to make it happen. That's what makes our community great, and that's why we need leadership to make these essential investments now more than ever.
Nancy M. Floreen, Garrett Park
The writer, a Democrat, is an at-large member of the Montgomery County Council. She also is chair of the council's Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee.