Travelers need to lobby for congestion relief from states’ new tax plans

Robert Thomson
Columnist April 12, 2013

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Maryland’s just-passed transportation bill identifies only the sources and amount of new revenue. It does not specify how the money will get spent.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region. View Archive

Many Marylanders fear they’ll pay more without knowing where the money went. If the new taxes yield $4.4 billion over six years, as projected, is all of that money meant to fund new projects, as opposed to maintenance? And, which projects?

Maryland has new transportation revenue, but not a spending or congestion relief plan. If Marylanders are paying more in taxes, we should know where the money is going and have confidence that the state intends to invest in projects that are ready to build now, have a regional impact on mobility and will complete major upgrades.

— Harry M. Seidman, Baltimore

Both the Maryland and Virginia legislatures have passed big spending plans, and that’s a good start. But commuters — the people most concerned about congestion relief — must tell the governments how they want their money invested, because there are plenty of other interest groups ready to lobby over the details.

Let’s focus today on Maryland.

We hardly ever talk about Maryland. Mahlon G. “Lon” Anderson, the managing director of public and government affairs with AAA Mid-Atlantic, often refers to the state as “Rip Van Maryland” when it comes to improving travel conditions. Maryland hasn’t even had a transportation secretary since Beverley Swaim-Staley left the job in mid-2012.

Right now, Maryland is reworking its 20-year transportation plan and inviting the state’s residents to say what they would like to see it do. Go to the Maryland Department of Transportation Web site at www.mdot.maryland.gov and you can review the options as the state defines them. Look for “Take the MTP Survey.”

If you’re asking what there is to decide, consider that it’s a rare transportation improvement program that’s just about improving transportation. The range of potential investments is broad.

The first page of the survey on transportation improvements asks you to list what’s most important to you. Here are your choices: “Quality of Service,” “Safety & Security,” “System Preservation,” “Environmental Stewardship,” “Community Vitality” and “Economic Prosperity.” You can also suggest another priority.

My top three would be system preservation, quality of service, and safety and security.

Under strategies for system preservation, the survey reminds this inside-the-Capital-Beltway traveler that I need to think about preserving BWI Marshall Airport and the Port of Baltimore.

Among the strategies for improving the quality of service are investments in technology, such as online service, the 511 information system and electronic tolling. They also include fixing highway bottlenecks, building new highways, enhancing transit services and providing real-time information to help travelers make better decisions about timing and routes.

The safety and security strategies include making hazardous locations less hazardous and adding enforcement measures to curb dangerous driving.

If I had picked economic prosperity as a top priority, the suggested strategies would include removing bottlenecks that hinder rail, air and truck freight; improving transit and highway access to employment and commercial centers; and improving airport capacity.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’ve got nothing against economic prosperity. But as Dr. Gridlock, I’ve spent years sharing the frustrations of travelers who want money invested in congestion relief. When they drive along the skinny side of the Beltway in Bethesda, they’re thinking a lot more about congestion relief than about job creation.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or e-mail drgridlock@washpost.com.

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