Maryland congestion costs drivers $2,195 annually

The roads are lumpy, traffic is wretched and nobody has the billions of dollars needed to make it all better.

So, what’s new, you ask?

There’s a new number: $2,195.

That’s the latest calculation of how much bad roads and dense traffic cost the average driver in Washington’s Maryland suburbs each year.

It comes as the latest effort to put a dollar sign in front of a number to which average folks can relate: their personal cost. It’s an attempt to bring ground-level reality to a discussion that swirls with mind-numbing billion and trillion dollar cost estimates.

The $2,195 figure is one of many calculations, based on federal data, that were released Thursday by the nonprofit transportation group TRIP.

The group presented the projections a day after U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood urged a national gathering of transportation officials to “think outside the box” in coming up with ways to restore their state infrastructures.

“The question is, how do we pay for it?” LaHood said.

And the TRIP numbers crunching followed by two days the release of a Washington Post poll which found that even those Marylanders who see congestion as a major headache have little interest in paying higher taxes to address it.

An independent pollster two years ago said the infamous Alaskan “bridge to nowhere” was scorched in the memory of many Americans who believe that simply eliminating wasteful projects will provide sufficient money for transportation infrastructure.

And some who participated in the recent Post poll expressed skepticism that their tax dollars were being well spent. Only about a quarter of the Marylanders polled supported any one of the several tax-hike proposals that have been floated in Annapolis.

In addition to the cost per driver of bad roads and congestion in Maryland, the TRIP report was a welter of other state data:

• More than 40 percent of the state’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition.

• In the Maryland suburbs of Washington, however, that number jumps to 67 percent.

• Bad roads in those D.C. suburbs add an average of $578 to the cost of driving each year.

• A quarter of the state’s bridges need to be repaired or replaced.

“Today we face traffic gridlock, the worst in the nation,” said Douglas M. Duncan, of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance, who joined TRIP leaders in presenting the report. “Tomorrow, without sufficient funding to support our infrastructure needs, we may face economic gridlock that will cost us far more.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) have suggested several ways to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for more for road and transit projects. They are pushing for action before the 90-day legislative session ends in April.

Miller has proposed a new 3 percent sales tax on gas or allowing counties to add another 5 cents to the state’s 23.5 cent-per-gallon gas tax. O’Malley has floated a plan to raise the state’s general sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent and designate that the proceeds go for transportation.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.

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