The gas tax has not been raised in Maryland since 1992 and, because it is not indexed to inflation, it has lost roughly 60 percent of its value. Without a major increase in funds, we simply will not be able to keep pace with basic maintenance needs, let alone have anything left to deal with one of our biggest threats to future prosperity and quality of life.
O’Malley’s proposal would cost the average Maryland driver about $90 a year when fully implemented. This pales in comparison to what our region’s worsening congestion and poor road conditions cost each of us right now: Almost $2,300 a year in wasted gas and extra wear and tear, according to the Road Information Project. Such congestion costs disproportionately fall on the backs of working families and the poor. Nothing is more regressive than severe congestion, lost opportunity and job losses.
From a job-creation perspective, we are not just on life support, we are about to flat-line. Already, Maryland faces an uphill battle to lure companies’ headquarters, and Montgomery County has suffered a net loss of jobs in the face of stiff competition from Northern Virginia. Our job losses will continue to mount if employers can’t count on easy access to workers, customers and markets.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We have studied our transportation needs for decades and know exactly what will ease our traffic woes. We simply need to make those investments.
Each year, local jurisdictions submit a list of their top transportation priorities to the state for construction funding. This year, two key transit projects top the list for Montgomery County: The Corridor Cities Transitway and the Purple Line, followed by a number of road and intersection improvements that would make a real difference in relieving traffic.
However, none of these projects will move forward — not now, not ever — without a major increase in transportation funding. Of course, we also must protect transportation funds from being “raided,” and the governor is supporting legislation to this effect. Finally, several major economic development projects — including new science and technology centers in the Interstate 270 corridor and community revitalization projects in the East County — cannot move forward without the specific transportation improvements the governor’s proposal would help fund. The opportunity costs in terms of our future employment and tax base would be almost too huge to measure, putting at risk our ability to support good schools and other priorities.
A good transportation system is just as important to our economy as a healthy circulatory system is to our bodies. Right now we have a bad case of clogged arteries. Maryland legislators need to step up and support this proven life-saving treatment now.
The writer, Montgomery County executive from 1994 to 2006, is chairman of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance.