Friday, October 16, 2009

Warning Signs for Transportation, Part Two

By Marc Korman.

In Part One, we looked at some of the troubling recent developments in transportation. Today we will look at some of the more positive developments.

While Maryland has been cutting transportation funding, the federal government has made a major investment in it. Thus far, $482.9 million has been obligated by the Department of Transportation for projects in Maryland as part of the stimulus package, $93 million of which has been allocated to Montgomery County. More funding is in the pipeline, including potential money for BRAC in Bethesda and the MARC commuter rail. Although not a long term solution, the funding infusion has kept transportation projects moving in Maryland.

In Congress, the annual transportation appropriations bill currently working its way towards the President’s desk includes $150 million for the Metro system. The appropriation is due to a bill that authorized federal dollars for the Metro system if Maryland, DC, and Virginia agreed to provide matching funds. If the law is funded as expected, there will be ten grants of $150 million over ten years. The House version of the appropriations bill gives the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) wide discretion in spending the funds. The Senate version gives the Transportation Secretary a much larger say over how the money will be spent. Maryland’s leaders should advocate for the House language.

A recent survey by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments found that Montgomery County residents view transportation and traffic as the most important long term issue. As Adam highlighted in an earlier post, that surpassed concern about transportation in the region as a whole. That long term concern for transportation may encourage elected officials in Montgomery County to work even harder on the issue.

As is often the case, transportation debates are dominated by mega-projects such as the Purple Line or I-270 expansion. But elected officials cannot just back these big projects while allowing the operations and maintenance funding to be gutted. Despite some good news, there are policy and political clouds on the horizon for transportation. Those who care about the issue and recognize its importance to our economy and quality of life need to keep our elected officials’ eyes on the big transportation picture.