November 11, 2011

Groups favor gas tax rise -- with conditions

A group of environmental and pro-transit organizations say they're all in favor of raising Maryland's 23.5-cent-a-gallon gas tax -- but only if their conditions are met.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth, 1,000 Friends of Maryland, Action Committee for Transit and other groups issued a joint news release Thursday in which they called on the General Assembly to agree to tighter controls on how any additional money is spent before raising more revenue.

Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1,000 Friends, said the groups' support for any gas tax increase is conditional on the legislature adopting measures to ensure that money is spent on projects that are not "business as usual."

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Categories: For policy wonks only

November 1, 2011

State, Montgomery land BRAC dollars

The Department of Defense has awarded Maryland and Montgomery County $88.9 million of the $90 million they sought for traffic improvements around the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, members of the Maryland congressional delegation announced.

The center is moving from its longtime location on the District of Columbia to Montgomery County as part of the Base Realignment and Closure program. The federal funding was announced by Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, along with U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen. All are Democrats.

The Pentagon will provide $40 million to Montgomery for a multimodal crossing of Route 355. The State Highway Administration will receive $48.9 for four intersection projects in the vicinity of the medical center.

While the money will be directed to the Washington area, it could represent dollars the state will not have to provide for BRAC improvements. Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who heads the governor's subcabinet overseeing the BRAC process, said the grants would help create jobs and relieve congestion in the Bethesda area.



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October 26, 2011

Transportation panel has more to say than raise gas tax

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding made news Tuesday by recommending a 15-cent increase in the gas tax, along with other revenue-raising measures. But the draft report goes far beyond that in making recommendations on how Maryland should go about paying for highway, transit and other projects in the future.

Some of its recommendations seem unlikely or ill-timed, but others could find their way into the state's transportation strategy.

One controversial recommendation would be to establish a mechanism for regular review of transit fares, with future increases driven by indexed formulas rather than administration decisions. This is a recommendation that is likely to face fierce resistance from lawmakers from low-income districts, whose constituents have benefited from the O'Malley administration's policy of holding the line on fares even as costs have ridden. The panel also urged the Maryland Transit Administration to achieve the statutory goal of recovering 35 percent of its costs at the fare box, but this section has a pro forma quality about its raises questions about how serious the commission was on this point. It's not unlikely that there will be a modest fare increase over the next year -- largely because of General Assembly pressure -- but it seems unlikely that increase would get the MTA to the 35 percent level.

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September 19, 2011

2012 called crucial year for transportation funding

If Maryland is going to raise significant new revenue to meet its backlog of transportation needs – most likely through a higher gas tax-- 2012 is the year it must be done, a leading lawmaker told a gathering of Baltimore business leaders Monday.


Speaking at the Greater Baltimore Committee’s annual transportation summit, State Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola warned that any political will that exists to raise money for highways, transit and other transportation needs will fall off the closer legislators get to the 2012 election.

"They’re going to be even more skittish as we get to 2013 and 2014," the Montgomery County Democrat said.

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May 11, 2011

Transportation funding panel waiting for September

A blue-ribbon commission now studying ways to raise new money to finance transportation projects in Maryland is unlikely to have much to add to its previous recommendations before September.

A meeting of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding in Annapolis Tuesday produced nothing in the way of new decision-making. Members discussed the slim results of this year's legislative session and heard a briefing on a statewide development plan being drafted by the O'Malley administration but signaled that any new recommendations to the General Assembly would wait until fall.

The panel recommended during this year's legislative session that legislators take steps to raise the state's 23.5-cent-a-gallon gas tax and insulate the Transportation Trust Fund from future "raids" to balance the general fund budget. With gas prices soaring during the session, legislators shied away from any increase in the gas tax, which has remained level since 1992, but provided a modest amount of new money in the form of fee increases. The Assembly also adopted some mild safeguards against future diversions of transportation money -- though nothing that couldn't be undone by a majority vote in both Houses.

The main decision facing the panel now is whether to recommend to the O'Malley administration whether to push the issue of transportation funding in a special session of the Assembly this fall or to wait for the next annual session next January.


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March 18, 2011

Web link to MDTA budget analysis

Web link to Maryland Transportation Authoriity budget analysis:

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February 23, 2011

Next move on gas tax may be up to local leaders

The chairwoman of the House of Delegates committee in charge of revenue bills says local leaders will have to line up behind a higher gas tax if such an increase is going to happen in this year's session.

In one of those typical one-minute interviews that are a staple of Annapolis reporting, Del. Sheila Hixson, chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee said House leaders including Speaker Michael E. Busch have let local officials know that if they want a restoration of some of the local highway maintenance funds slashed in recent budgets, they'll have to get behind a move for increased transportation revenue.

Hixson, a Montgomery County Democrat, indicated that General Assembly leaders are reluctant to be seen as the only ones in favor of such a measure. The state's 23.5-cent-a-gallon gas tax hasn't been raised since 1992, but lawmakers are wary of imposing any increase.

This pressure on the local leaders is standard politics in Annapolis, where lawmakers ty pically want a public clamor for services before they provide the revenue to pay for them. If you see Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and a group of big-county executives lining up behind an increase over the next few weeks, you'll know a gas tax increase may be on a track to become part of a bigger budget deal.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:13 AM | | Comments (2)
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December 7, 2010

Regional board seeks ideas for better transportation

A group representing local governments in the metropolitan region is seeking ideas on how to make it easier to get around the Baltimore area -- anything from new roads to transit lines too hiker-biker trails.

The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board is soliciting suggestions as part of its task of putting together a plan  for improvements in the area between now and 2035. The window is open for ideas between now  and Jan. 6. A form is available  at

The board isn't looking for short-term projects or routine maintenance suggestions. No potholes, please. It's seeking ideas for major projects to advvance such goals as congestion, safety, access to the transportation system, movement of goods  and  environmental improvements.

For information contact Terry Freeland at or 410-732-0500, extension 1028, or Monica Haines Benkhedda at or 410-732-0500,  extension 1047.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:00 PM | | Comments (0)
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October 6, 2010

State starts '511' service for travelers

The State Highway Administration has announced it will launch a free. round-the-clock "511" telephone service to provide real-time traffic information to travelers in the state.

The new system, provided by Televent of Rockville, under a five-year contract with the state worth $4.7 million, will start up in fall 2011, according to Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The SHA wil manage the statewide service, under which the contractor will collect traffic information from a variety of sources and provide it to travelers who place calls to 511. The informatiion will also be  made available through social network operators and a website. The 511 system is later expected to add a personalized service that will alert subscribers to traffic conditions via text messaging.



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October 5, 2010

Is transit the vision the ICC was in 2002?

Sometimes reporters conduct fascinating interviews only to find that they just don't fit into the article they're working on. So it was recently when I talked with Todd Eberly, a St. Mary's College political science professor and keen observer of Maryland politics, about transportation issues and the governor's race.

Anyway, that's the beauty of a blog. There's a way to use this stuff.

Eberly's premise is that conveying a "vision" is important for Maryland gubernatorial candidates --especially for Republican nominees. His premise is that in a heavily Democratic state, a Democrat without vision beats a Republican without vision any time.

This year, he sees Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley moving ahead of GOP challenger Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in the vision stakes, at least on transportation issues.


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September 28, 2010

Razzberry withdrawn

In Monday's Getting There column in The Sun, I delivered a razzberry to the Maryland Department of Transportation for making the draft of its Comprehensive Transportation Program for 2011-2016 difficult to find on its web site.

Department spokesman Jack Cahalan pointed out that the CTP can be downloaded by clicking a tab placed prominently at the top of the website's home page. Obviously the department was hiding it in plain sight.  I can only plead advancing age and deteriorating eyesight.

Razzberry withdrawn -- or rather, redirected to the razzer.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:37 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: For policy wonks only

Funding panel meets, but key topics evaded

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding, set up by the General Assembly this year in an effort to do something about a glaring problem without upsetting anyone in an election year, kicked off its efforts Monday with a briefing by transportation leaders. What was most interesting was not what they said, but the topics officials glided over.

The largely news-free meeting was primarily a briefing of the commission members, who represent a broad swath of  stakeholders in the state, about the basic structure and condition of the transportation system in Maryland. As a primer, it was a good one, and certainly necessary to bring panel members up to speed on a complex topic.

What was striking, however, was  how lightly officials touched on the main topic of the panel's study. Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley said nothing about the department's former arguments in favor of indexing the gasoline tax  to inflation. Harold Bartlett, acting chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority, said nothing about the agency's plans for future toll increases to keep up with maintenance of the system. Maryland Transit Administration head Ralign T. Wells  didn't talk about the O'Malley administration's four  years  without raising fares.


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September 24, 2010

Transportation funding panel to meet Monday

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding, established by legislation that passed the General Assembly this spring, will hold its first meeting Monday in Annapolis.

The panel will meet from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Miller Senate Office Building, Rooms 1 and 2 West. The commission was set up to recommend long-term strategies for paying for the state's transportation needs.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:18 PM | | Comments (1)
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September 23, 2010

Franchot blasts report, reaffirms transit support

State Comptroller Peter Franchot reaffirmed his support for construction of two light rail lines as he accused a Washington newspaper of distorting his position after he questioned the costs of a contract for engineering on the projects.

Franchot released a statement Thuesday in which he said he felt compelled to respond to a Washington Examiner that he called a "gross misrepresentation of my longtime position" on the Purple Line in the Washington suburbs. The comptroller said he fully supports construction of the 16-mile light rail lline from New Carrollton to Bethesda, as well as the east-west Red Line in Baltimore.

The Examiner, in an stricle that bore  the online headline "Franchot swings at Purple Line," interpreted the comptroller's remarks as a criticism of the cost of the projects themselves.

Continue reading "Franchot blasts report, reaffirms transit support" »

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Categories: For policy wonks only, Light rail, MTA, Red Line

September 22, 2010

Rendell extols virtues of infrastructure spending

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell disn't break any new ground with his sermon to the Greatter Baltimore Committee this morning on the need for massive spending on infrastructure projects, but he certainly got the crowd of business and civic leaders energized.

Rendell was one of five speakers this morning at the GBC transportation event at the  Hyatt Regency, but he was certainly the most entertaining as he spelled out his reasons why the United States should spend billions in infrastructure projects in the coming years.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I wast to spend more money. I want to spend more money on American infrastructure because when you sepnd more money, you make money," he told the gathering of several hundred.

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August 20, 2010

BMC seeks comments on Circulator, Westport

The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board is seeking public comments on some interesting policy proposals involving the Charm City Circulator, Westport development plans and ttransportation access for seniors, the elderly and the disabled.

The regional planning body is asking for input on two projects the city government has proposed for inclusion in its 2011-2014 Transportation Improvement Program.  One would improve pedestrian safety and mass transit access at a new  Kent Street Plaza in the Westport area. The other would add new hybrid-electric buses to the free Circulator shuttle and extend service to Fort McHenry.

The board is also seeking comments on an updated plan for access to trasnportation  for seniors, the disabled and low-income residents. The comment period is open though Sept. 14. There  will also be a public meeting Aug. 31 from 4 p.m. until 5:30 p.m to discuss the proposals  at the Baltimore Metropolitan Council office, 2700 Lighthouse Point East, Suite 310, in Baltimore.




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August 12, 2010

Get breaking news on traffic, transit here

Has a four-vehicle crash closed the Jones Falls Expressway? Did a light rail train jump the tracks? Are hundreds of passengers stranded on a MARC train?

You can find out fast by receiving text message alerts from The Baltimore Sun's Breaking News Desk. Just click here to sign up to receive traffic alerts and other news as it happens. These are not routine announcements or advisories about everyday congestion but the type of major developments that can help commuters get to home or work faster.

There is no charge for the service from The Sun, though standard test-message charges from cell phone providers may apply.


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August 3, 2010

Laborers rally for infrastructure jobs

Several hundred orange-shirtted members of the Labborers International Union of North American rallied in Southwest Baltiimore today to call for increased federal spending on infrastructure projects tp help create jobs for its members and others.

Using the deteriorated Wilkens Avenue bridge over the Gwynns Falls as a backdrop, the union launched a campaign in Maryland to make job creation a  top priority of Maryland's congressional delegation.

The targets of LIUNA's message were Maryland's two Democratic U.S. senators, Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin. Union leaders said they generally  view the two senators as staunch allies in job creation efforts but wanted to encourage them to step up as "champions" of efforts to provide financing for public works projects including bridges, highways, rail projects, schools and water and sewer facilities.

Continue reading "Laborers rally for infrastructure jobs" »

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July 28, 2010

Laborers to bring campaign to Maryland

The Laborers International Union, one of the largest labor organizations iin North America, are bringing their national campaign for more federal investment in infrastructure to Maryland.

The union will launch the drive in Baltimore Tuesdayy with a  rallly near the  site of the Wlkens Avenue Bridge at Hurley Avenue -- one of  those in Maryland classified as "functionally obsolete." The group is planning billboards, radio ads and other efforts to spread its message about a need to spend more on transportation, energy, water and school facilities.

Similar campaigns have also been mounted in Colorado, Connecticut and Indiana. The union estimates that an aggressive pllan to build infrastructure coulld yield 61,000 jobs in Maryland over five years.



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July 9, 2010

Foxx transfers out of top city transportation job

Alfred H. Foxx Jr., Baltimore's longtime transportation director, is transferring out of that job to serve as head of the city's Department of Public Works. He will be replaced by Khalil A. Zaied, who now heads the Department of General Services.

The move by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake comes after public works director David Scott "resigned to pursue other opportunities," the mayor said in an apparently euphemistic press release.

The changes take effect immediately.

Foxx, originally appointed transportation director by former Mayor and now Gov. Martin O'Malley, had been in the post for nearly a decade. Zaied is a former chief of the Department of Transportation's highway design offcie.




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June 3, 2010

Feds seek public input on transit project criteria

Here's an opportunity for those with strong feelings about the Red Line, Purple Line or other proposed transit projects to weigh in on the criteria the federal government uses to evaluate proposals for such infrastructure investments.

The Federal Transit Administration, which under the Obama administration has altered Bush administration rules subjecting such proposals to a rigid cost-benefit test,  is seeking public comments on changes to its rating system. According to the FTA, it is seeking better ways to reflect the community benefits of transit projects.

The FTA is seeking comments at the federal government's Regulations website as well as holding public meetings -- the first two of which will take place next week:

TRB Environment and Energy Research Conference
Raleigh Convention Center
500 South Salisbury Street
Raleigh, North Carolina 27601
Monday, June 7 at 4:30 p.m.
APTA 2010 Rail Conference
Hyatt Regency Vancouver
655 Burrard Street
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6C 2R7
Tuesday, June 8 at 1:30 p.m. (Federal Register reflects 2:30 p.m. start time. It will be corrected.)


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:09 AM | | Comments (0)

June 2, 2010

Brown announces guaranteed-ride plan

In his role as the state's coordinator of military base relocation actions, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown says the state will spend  $200,000 toward creation of Maryland's first "guaranteed ride home" program to provide Fort Meade transit users with an emergency backup plan.

Brown, chairman of the Governor's Subcabinet on Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), announced the ride initiative as part of an overall Transportation Demand Management Plan for Fort Meade.

The guaranteed-ride program is based on a 13-year-old program in the  Washington area that ensures rides home during the day for transit riders who need a ride home because of an unexpected emergency  or because they have to work unscheduled overtime.

Under that program, registered participants who use transit  twice a week or more are eligible for up to four free rides home each year. The rides are provided by taxi or rental car, depending on distance. Commuters must work in the Baltimore Metropolitan area and live in a somewhat larger region that includes the metro area plus  parts of the Eastern Shore and southern Pennsylvania.



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April 17, 2010

Regional groups seek views on transportation

Two important regional government organizations are inviting the public to contribute their ideas about the Baltimore area's transportation future at a series of workshops this month and next.

The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board and the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, both of which represent the governments of local jurisdictions, are sponsoring a pprogram called imagine2060 to develop a vision for transportation in the region over the nextt 50 years.

One workshop  will be held in Baltimore  and one in each of the five metropolitan counties. Registration begins 30 minutes before each meeting.


Continue reading "Regional groups seek views on transportation" »

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Categories: For policy wonks only

April 12, 2010

Greens hail passage of transportation bill

Maryland's greens have found something to cheer on the last day of the 2010 legislative with the passage of a rather wonky bill that would require the consideration of a series of environmental criteria in evaluating transportation projects.

 The bill won passage 31-14 over the opposition of Republican senators.

I'll let Brad Heavner, state director of Environment Maryland, explain why environmentalists are so pleased:


Continue reading "Greens hail passage of transportation bill" »

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April 8, 2010

Safety advocate Bronrott leaving House

Del. William A. Bronrott, one of the General Assembly's leading highway safety advocates, announced today that he will leave the House of Delegates to accept a high-ranking post in the Obama administration.

Bronrott, a Montgomery County Democrat who was first elected in 1998, has been named deputy administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. That agency, which regulates interstate buses and trucking, is headed by Anne Ferro, former chief of Maryland's Motor Vehicle Administration.

Bronrott has sponsored numerous bills in the General Assembly concerning drunk driving, teen driver safety and other related topics. He has also been actively involved in federal transportation issues.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:29 AM | | Comments (0)
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April 5, 2010

Insurers, lawyers clash over insurance bill

Both trial lawyers and insurers tried to put a human face on their positions for against legislation that would increase the minimum amount of auto insurance Maryland vehicles owners must carry.

The lawyers brought out three auto crash victims whose medical bills were not covered by minimum  policies with liability limits of $20,000 person and $40,000 per crash. Insurers rallied support from groups that advocate for low-income people, aruging that the poor couldn't afford the higher premiums that would result.


"We are seriously concerned about what this will do to the most vulnerable people in the state," said Melissa Broome of the Job Opportunities Task Force.

But trial lawyer Frank Boston said 90 percent of his clients who are injured in auto crashes are also low-income people.

The minimum insurance levels have not been changed in 38 years.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:12 PM | | Comments (0)
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April 1, 2010

Here's the skinny on cell phone, drunk driving bills

It was a glorious day in Annapolis: blue skies, perfect temperatures, the leisurely pace that sets in on the day the committees hold their parties. Just a perfect day for schmoozing and taking the temperature on transportation related bills.

 Here’s where some of them stand:

Cell phone ban: According to Del. James Malone, chairman of the subcommittee handling the bill, the House plan is to bring two bills out of the subcommittee and committee Tuesday.


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March 24, 2010

House rejects Senate cut of transportation funds

A House of Delegates subcommittee has rejected the Senate's move to divert millions of dollars a year in sales tax revenue from the Transportation Trust Fund to the general state treasury, setting up a showdown over the money in a conference committee.

Del. Tawauna Gaines, chairwoman of the House Appropriations transportation subcommittee, said her panel voted against the diversion Tuesday -- one day before the measure passed as part of the Senate's budget reconciliation act. The Senate move would cost the transportation fund an estimated $57-$59 million a year.

Continue reading "House rejects Senate cut of transportation funds" »

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March 23, 2010

Traffic court bill advances in Senate

A bill that would shift the burden for seeking a court date on a traffic ticket to the motorist who receives the citation has received preliminary approval after a misunderstanding over a suggested amendment was cleared up.

The Senate adopted an amendment by Sen. Robert Zirkin after he  wiithdrew an earlier version that contained language that the bill's proponents took as an attempt to gut the bill.

Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat, insisted he supported the intent of the bill but but wanted to clarify the procedures that would be followed if a ticketed motorist didn't respond 15 days with a fine payment or request for trial. But police chiefs, who are seeking the bill in order  to reduce the number of wasted hours their officers spend in court for trials at which defendants don't appear, objected to Zirkin's original language.

When he learned of the objections, Zirkin agreed that the original language of his amendment might have included drafting errors. The new version that he substituted passed muster with law enforcement and was adopted as a floor amendment.

Still to be determined is the fate of the bill in the House, where it is waiting for a vote in the Judiciary Committee. The legislation has the support of the O'Malley administration as well as top local governments and police chiefs from around the state.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:00 PM | | Comments (0)
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March 22, 2010

Senate raids transportation fund for future budgets

There's something about the Transportation Trust Fund that the Maryland General Assembly finds irresistable. Whenever budgets get tight, lawmakers just can't seem to keep their hands off the fund -- no matter how depleted it is.

This year, it's the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee that's leading the raid -- adopting a proposal that would steer money that had been intended for transportation into the general fund starting in fiscal 2014, which starts July 1, 2013.

It seems the percentage of the state sales tax that gets put aside for transportation is scheduled to increase from 5.3 percent to 6.5 percent starting that year.  The Department of Legislative Services recommended that lawmakers cap that percentage at 5.3 percent, shifting millions of dollars out of transportation. Despite opposition from transportation advocates such as the Greater Baltimore Committee, the committee agreed.

"By making a change now, the department has sufficient time to make changes to the capital program to account for the loss of revenue," the analysts reasoned.

The Senate is generally hesitant to tinker much with the  committee's budget, so the most likely place for opponents of the move to make their stand is in the House.

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February 4, 2010

GBC to fight diversion of transportation funds

Sun photo

Greater Baltimore Committee President Donald C. Fry (right) said his group will fight a proposal by General Assembly budget analysts to divert money expected to go toward transportation starting in 2013 to the state general fund.

Under a state law adopted in 2008, the percentage of the state's sales tax revenue that is expected to be devoted to the Transportation Trust Fund is expected to increase from 5.3 percent to 6.5 percent starting with the budget year that begins July 1, 2013. The state Department of Legislative Services urged the legislature Wednesday to cancel that increase and keep the money for general use. Such a move would cost the transportation fund almost $60 million a year in the early years of the change, which would be permanent. The decrease would follow several years in which transportation programs have been deferred because of a recession-related shortage of money to undertake  them.

Fry said his group, representing Baltimore-area business leaders, would lobby vigorously against the proposal.

"This is not the time for the legislature to be reaching into  the Transportation Trust Fund cookie jar and getting whatever crumbs are left," Fry said.



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January 19, 2010

Blogger betrays naivete on Maryland politics

Adam Pagnucco of Maryland Politics Watch does some of the best and worst political reporting of any blog in the state of Maryland -- sometimes in the same article.

Case in point: Pagnucco just posted a lengthy article entitled "The Great Choir of Happy Talk"   about transportation funding in Maryland in which he points out -- quite accurately -- that big projects cost actual money. No surprise there, but it's refreshing to see this dose of reality. The writer goes into quite a  bit of detail on what it would take to build each of three transit projects in the state -- the Red Line, the Purple Line and  the Corridor Cities Transitway.

But Pagnucco gets the politics  all wrong, as  he so often does.


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December 23, 2009

Top 10 Md. transportation stories: 2000-2009

Apart from disasters, transportation stories tend to unfold over the course of many years. Some of the ones that garner big headlines at the time will be all but forgotten in a few years time. So in choosing the Top 10 Maryland transportation stories of the past decade, it helps to project forward to 2020 or 2030 and look back at what made a lasting difference.

A little disclosure is in order. I have covered transportation for The Sun since 2004 and before that followed many transportation-related stories as a State House Bureau reporter. So there might be a bias in favor of the stories I covered. (Thanks to my colleague Scott Calvert to reminding me of the Howard Street Tunnel fire, which occurred before my time on the beat.)

With those caveats, I present my top 10 in the bottom-to-top format made wildly popular by David Letterman:

10. Light rail double-tracking project completed. When Baltimore's light rail system opened early in the 1990s, it soon became clear that the system had been built on the cheap. The decision to run trains on a single track over long stretches led to constant delays and operational difficulties. Thus, under the Glendening administration, the decision was made to add a second track. The Ehrlich administration then made a tough decision to expedite the work by closing down the southern and northern stretches of the system for periods of about a year. It was a rough time for light rail users, but the project was finally completed in early 2006, and the result has been much more reliable service on this still image-impaired system.


                                                                                                 Sun photo/Amy Davis/2006      

Continue reading "Top 10 Md. transportation stories: 2000-2009" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:33 AM | | Comments (7)

December 4, 2009

Chicago shows perils of infrastructure leases

When money is tight and there's a lack of public will to raise taxes or sacrifice services, it can be awfully tempting for public officials to raise some quick cash by signing a sweetheart long-term lease deal for a toll facility or other revenue-raising public asset.

But as the case of the Chicago parking meters shows, these deals are fraught with peril for generations to come. Current elected officials will always be tempted to front-load the benefits to avoid unpopular tax increases or spending cuts on their watch while short-changing the future. There'a a posterity-be-damned political ethos prevailing that needs a legal counterweight before Maryland begins falling into similar traps.

In Chicago, the  City Council just approved Mayor Richard M. Daley's plan to raid the reserve fund created through a 75-year lease deal for the future revenue of the city's parking meter's to balance one year's tough  budget. In effect, the city pocketed money that was intended to make up for lost parking revenue for the next three generations.

The mechanism I propose to prevent such shenanigans would be the establishment of a Counsel for Future Generations, modeled on the People's Counsel that defends the interests of residential ratepayers in utility cases. That lawyer should be charged with representing the rights of the people at the back end of these long-term lease deals, with authority to challenge any lease deal or raid on a  reserve fund that is stacked in favor of today's taxpayers  at the expense of tomorrow's. And judges should be given the responsibilty of assuring that today's public officials don't enter into deals that cheat the future.

If these protections are put in place by anything less than a state constitutional amendement, it will be all to easy to abrogate them when in the middle of one of the state's periodic budget  "crises." So why not put a measure on the ballot for the 2010 election providing safeguards for any public obligation lasting longer than 25 years? Your great-grandkids would thank you.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:11 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: For policy wonks only

November 18, 2009

Transportation takes hit in new rounds of cuts

With the state budget still on the ropes because of revenue shortfalls, Gov. Martin O'Malley is proposing a new round of budget cuts to take to the Board of Public Works. Transportation, once again, will take a licking, along with most every other area of state spending.

From what I can see, this list will translate into such things as higher grass and more litter along state highways, longer lines at the MVA and bathrooms at BWI that aren't cleaned quite as frequently. On the other hand, there's probably oother spending in here that won't be missed at all.

Here are some of the specifics, just as the GGovernor's Office described them:

Department of Transportation

The Secretary's Office

  • Reduce per diem payments, operating costs for utilities, advertising,
    building maintenance, public service announcements, consultant
    services and contractual services.                                                      $133,500
  • InformationTechnology--Reduce maintenance contracts, delay upgrade projects, delay ability to build out additional fiber for MDOT network, reduce training
    opportunities, reduce contractor services for FMIS operations and
    maintenance that mirror State mandated closings, limit funds for travel,
    delay rollout of Clarity application for project management.                  $2,200,000
  • State Highway Administration Reduce mowing costs, litter pickup costs, spraying, maintenance,
    sweeping cycles, pavement repair, joint filling, line striping, highway
    lighting maintenance, and consultant services.                                   $14,728,467
  • Maryland Port Administration Eliminate clerical PIN, reduce legal support, tuition reimbursements, cell phone costs, travel, motor vehicle maintenance and lease costs,
    advertising, equipment rentals and repairs, janitorial services, security
    services, training, trash removal, software maintenance contracts,
    stevedoring contract, office supplies, and maintenance.                           $ 8,124,553
  • Motor Vehicle Administration--Reduce overtime, contractual and temporary staff, telephone costs,postage, equipment repairs, extermination, janitorial, laundry, eliminate
    vehicle replacement, delay central Issuance program, reduce use of
    MSP troopers at select locations, reduce MDP fees for VEIP.                       $4,109,195
  • Maryland Aviation Administration--Reduce janitorial, BWI security, consultants, telephone costs, postagecosts, travel, utilities, software purchases, hardware maintenance,
    supplies, subscriptions, dues, rent, grants to non-government entities.        $8,296,217
Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:10 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: For policy wonks only

September 9, 2009

Blog weighs in on Yellow Line idea

I just stumbled across the Transport Politic blog, which gives some extensive coverage to a recent proposal to advance the proposed Yellow Line from Towson to Columbia ahead of an extension of the Green Line.

I share the concerns that light rail to Columbia may be too slow to compete with autos. The public transit solution I'd suggest for Columbia is an express bus between the BWI Business District Light Rail station and Columbia Town Center. I don't see that it would kill the 310 or 320 commuter  bus routes, as one reader suggested, though it might lead to their being reconfigured. I see the express bus serving a much broader group of riders with seven-day-a-week service that would extend the existing light rail without the expense of an actual rail line.

Any thoughts?




Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:48 PM | | Comments (8)

September 8, 2009

Ex-WMATA executive gets No. 2 MDOT post

Gov. Martin O’Malley has named Harold M. Bartlett, a former top executive at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority, to the No. 2 post at the Maryland Department of Transportation. 

Bartlett succeeds former deputy secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley, who was promoted to secretary after  John D. Porcari left to join the Obama administration. Bartlett worked in high-level positions with WMATA from 1983 to 2006 before joining the Maryland Transportation Authority as deputy executive secretary. He is a resident of Montgomery County.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:28 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: For policy wonks only

September 2, 2009

Group would speed Yellow Line, slow Green Line

The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, a group that brings together the movers and shakers in the Baltimore region, has endorsed what could be a critical change in the metropolitan area's long-term plans by urging that the proposed Yellow Line from Lutherville to Columbia be made the top transit priority after connstruction of the proposed Red Line.

The alliance's recommendation, which represents a consensus view of Baltimore business and ciivic leaders, would jump that project ahead of the proposed extension of the current Metro subway beyond Johns Hopkins Hospital toward Morgan State and eventually White Marsh. It came as part of a report relleased Wednesday on Baltimore's prospects for transit-oriented development.

Both projects lie far in the future, but the effect of such a change of priorities could be profound for today's young workers and future generations. If adopted by government leaders, the new priority could accelerate job growth and transit service in such places as Towson and Columbia in the 2020s while delaying an expansion of transit in the Harford Road and Bel Air Road corridors until later decades.

Otis Rolley, president of the transportation alliance, said the Yellow Line -- part of a 2002 comprehensive regional transit plan -- offers better prospects for connecting major residential and employment centers than the Green Line plan.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:03 PM | | Comments (9)

August 5, 2009

Good discussion of I-270 widening

There's a very good extended discussion of the $4.6 billion Interstate 270 widening project after a July 17 article on the excellent blog Greater Greater Washington. The folks in the chat aren't talking about roads Baltimore folks use regularly, but they are talking about the disposition of Maryland  tax  dollars.

If you do read it to the end, notice  how commenters on both sides of the issue fail to address the effect such a project would have in other traffic corridors such as Interstate 95. That isn't because there are none; it's because people are thinking narrowly about one corridor rather than one state.

These Montgomery County traffic debates can usually be left to residents of that county. But this project is  so huge and has such environmental impacts it deserves a  statewide debate. It would be a shame if Baltimore leaders woke up one day to fins it was already a done deal.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: For policy wonks only

June 1, 2009

Mayor Dixon talks transportation

I had the opportunity to sit down with Mayor Sheila Dixon to talk about transportation issues, It's a topic very close to the heart of the mayor, an avid  bicyclist who uses her rides around the city to get an up-close look at Baltimore infrastructure.

Some topics:

Speed cameras: Dixon expressed relief that a petition drive aimed at invalidating a law passed  by the General Assembly expandig the use of speed cameras failed. She said the city has a serious problem with speeding and not enough officers to enforce traffic laws.

Roundabouts: The mayor said she, too, finds the Towson rounabout confusing, even though her administration is looking at creating six of them to replace busy interchanges. She said she got a good look at the possible benefits of such traffic circles during a trip to Chicago. Dixon said she especially likes the opportunity to create green space in the  center  of the roundabouts.

Red Line: Dixon restated her backing for Red Line Alternative 4C -- a light rail system running in a tunnel under Cooks Lane and through downtown and Fells Point  but on the surface in Canton and Edmondson Village. But she said she understands the concerns of residents of the affected neighborhoods. She said the existing north-south light rail system down Howard Street -- built with the state-of-the-art technology of the early 1990s -- has colored people's opinions about the Red Line.

"People look at it like it's the light rail and it's not not," she  said. Dixon said  newer light rail technology is much quieter and will blend in better with the communities it serves. "People can't vision it the way we plan it to be."

The City that Paves: Despite severe recession-related budget cuts, the mayor said the city is still on track to repave 220 lane-miles this year. 

Stimulus money: Dixon said it's out on the street right now, paying for the resurfacing of Northern Parkway and Orleans Street.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                




Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:52 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Bicycles, For policy wonks only, Light rail, On the roads, Red Line

May 29, 2009

GBC reports suggests gas tax alternative

The Greater Baltimore Committee has long been a supporter of a higher gas tax to pay for critical maryland Transportation projects. However, the General Assembly has not raised that 23.5-cent-a-gallon tax since the early 1990s, and the last three governors haven't dared to touch that political third rail.

On the federal level, the gas tax has remained at 18.4 cents since early in the Clinton administration.

Reading the political handwriting on the wall, the GBC has issued a report on another proposed method of financing transportation. The business group is intrigued by the idea of taxing vehicles based on the number of miles they have traveled on each type of road through a GPS-vased system.

It all boils down to a matter of picking your poison. Infrastructure isn't cheap.

When all the alternatives are hashed out -- a miles-traveled tax, higher tolls, registration fees, nuisance fees, selling infrastructure off to investors for the right to raise tolls -- maybe the humble motor fuel tax won't look so bad. It's simple, it's understandable, it doesn't put a large bill in your face. The burden falls on those who guzzle the most gas. And there's a system in place to collect it.

Could it be the worst alternative except for all the others?



Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:45 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: For policy wonks only

May 28, 2009

Salaries could affect transportation chief choice

When Gov. Martin O'Malley sifts through the local talent pool in search of a new transportation secretary to replace John D. Porcari, who is going on to better things with the Obama administration, he could finds his choices constrained by matters of salary. Some of the most logical candidates would have to take a pay cut to get a promotion.

There's no problem if the governor goes with the most obvious choice: promoting Deputy Secretary (and newly named acting secretary) Beverly Swaim-Staley to succeed Porcari. She now makes $140,460 a year, compared with Porcari's $162,825.

In an interview, Swain-Staley left no doubt she is a candidate for the top post. If named, she would be the first woman transportation secretary in Maryland.

"I would be interested. Obviously, that decision is up to the governor," she said.

But if O'Malley was looking to move up one of the current administrators of the agencies within the Maryland Department of Transportation, he could find himself trying to persuade a highly paid professional to become a less highly paid political appointee.

For instance, Maryland Transit Administration chief Paul J. Wiedefeld, who also has experience  running BWI, now makes $179,500 for performing one of the most difficult jobs in the state, according to the Office of the Comptroller. The current BWI chief and head of the Maryland Aviation Administration, Timothy Campbell, makes $256,428 in his current role. Maryland Port Administrator James J. White's salary is $252,000. Not much incentive to climb the ladder there.

Some of their peers, on the other hand, could earn more with a promotion to secretary. Neal J. Pedersen receives pay of $156,723 for running the State Highway Administration -- a huge agency with thousands of employees. Ronald Freeland, executive secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority, makes $140,405 for running the agency that manages Maryand toll facilities. John T. Kuo receives a paltry $137,470 for running the Motor Vehicle Administration.

This may seem a bit confusing but there is a logic to it. Competition is stiff for top executives with the specialized skills to run airports and seaports. The same applies to a lesser degree with transit administrators. Pedersen and Kuo are guys who worked their way up through the ranks in state government through administrations of both parties.

Whether the governor chooses one of these individuals or goes to the outside for a new secretary, he'll have a hard time finding someone who's as skilled at explaining the administration's policies to legislators, the media, the federal government, business and the public as Porcari. The departing secretary was fully comfortable in those roles and was a consummate diplomat. He could field the dumbest questions from a legislator and answer them as if the lawmaker had spoken words of genius. It's a trait that will serve him well in Washington. 

Anyway, if you're interested in the job, it's listed on the state Department of Budget and Management website. The deadline to apply is Wednesday. The salary range is listed as $124,175 to $166,082.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: For policy wonks only

Cardin discloses transportation earmarks

U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin calls them priority budget appropriations requests. Others call them earmarks. Regardless of terminology Maryland's junior senator has posted the complete list of his fiscal 2010 requests for federal spending in Maryland on his Senate web site as required.

Several of the big-ticket requests deal with transportation, and there are no "bridges to nowhere" in his requests as far as I can see.

"I have carefully vetted every request for Fiscal Year 2010 to ensure that they reflect our regional and national priorities and will help Maryland meet the challenges of the future,”  Cardin said is a news release.

Transportation requests include:

--$22.5 milion for dredging of Baltimore harbor.

--$10 million for Baltimore's proposed Red Line from Woodlawn to Bayview.

--$15 million for the Maryland Transit Administration to replace aging buses and bus facilities.

--$5 million for intersection improvements around Fort Meade related to an influx of workers due to military base relocation.

 --$2.6 million for Howard County to replace its gas-powered buses with hybrid models.

--$2.47 million for port security projects.

  All of these projects appear to be in line with the priorities of the Maryland Department of Transportation.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:24 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: For policy wonks only

Transportation board seeks public comments

What would you  do with $1.4 billion?

The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board is inviting public comments about how to spend that amount in transportation funds through 2013.

While the board might not  be a household name, it plays a vital role in the region's transportation future  as the conduit for federal  transportation dollars in Baltimore and surrounding counties.

Attached is a press release.


Continue reading "Transportation board seeks public comments" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:54 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: For policy wonks only

O'Malley names Swaim-Staley acting secretary

Gov. Martin O'Malley named Deputy Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley as acting secretary of transportation Thursday to stand in for John D. Porcari, whose nomination  by President Obama  as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation was confirmed last week.

Swain-Staley, a veteran Maryland transportation official, will take over Monday, when Porcari will be sworn in as the No. 2 official in the federal department. Swaim-Staley became deputy in 2007 after Porcari was named to the secretary post for his second go-round. Swaim-Staley served a previous term as No. 2 in the Maryland department when Porcari was secretary in the administration of Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Shaun Adamec, a spokesman for O’Malley, said the administration is conducting a nationwide search  for a permanent successor to Porcari. “A job of this magnitude would warrant such  a search,” Adamec said.

The spokesman said he could not say how long Swaim-Staley might serve in an acting capacity but said the governor is confident she can handle  the job “as long as it takes.” Adamec said Swaim-Staley would be among those considered for the post.

   In an afternoon interview, Swaim-Staley, 52, said she is a candidate for the top spot -- which would make her the first woman to hold that job in Maryland.

"I would be interested. Obviously that would be up to the governor," she said.

   Swaim-Staley has previously served in interim roles as head of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and the Maryland Transit  Administration. She previously served five years as the transportation department’s chief financial  officer.


Here's the news release:



Continue reading "O'Malley names Swaim-Staley acting secretary" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:46 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: For policy wonks only

May 19, 2009

Porcari gets a hearing

Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari had his hearing Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on his nomination to be deputy U.S. secretary of transportation.

Sample quote from Porcari's statement  "Safety has been, and must continue to be, the top priority of the Department. In addition, virtually every element of our transportation system faces daunting capacity constraints. Our transportation system is essential to the long-term prosperity of the United States and must also play a key role in advancing important policy goals such as livable communities, energy conservation and climate change."


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:53 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: For policy wonks only

May 18, 2009

Dumbing down the debate

Transportation for America is a serious group with a serious agenda of promoting infrastructure investment in the United States.

But its recent venture into public organzing, the launch of a web site called, seems as juvenile as it is crude.

It's one thing to "spread the rage," as one of its prominent tabs reads, but channeling that anger into actual policy is far more difficult. Rage is essentially mindless, and it can easily be hijacked to support a policy of disinvestment -- such as a counterproductive but oh-so-appealing gas tax holiday.

If you're going to win support for a program of focused and smart investment -- with the necessary revenue to support it -- you need appeals to reason rather than rage. But look at this nonsense petition on

Dear Congress,

My commute sucks and it's not getting any better. Stop pouring billions into a broken system.

Transportation shouldn't be an expensive, dirty burden. Fix it, clean it, make it work!


The Undersigned

So how is a member of Congress supposed to interpret such a communication? Does Mr. or Mrs. Undersigned support more transportation spending or less? Would the petitioner support higher gas taxes or not? Does this citizen want a shift from emphasizing roads to transit or not?

At some level, I understand what Transportation for America is trying to do. But this seems to be more about catharsis than solutions. Or is it just a way of building up a big email list for future fund-raising? I'm doubtful it will be effective on that level either.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: For policy wonks only

May 15, 2009

State seeks $4 billion in transportation earmarks

Maryland is seeking more than $3.6 billion in congressional earmarks for transit projects, along with an additional $327 million for highway work, according to a document released Friday by the state Department of Transportation.

The request is part of process leading up to congressional action on a new six-year surface transportation spending reauthorization bill. The current law expires this year. States typically request many dollars for each one that ends up in the legislation.

Jack Cahalan, a department spokesman, said the wish list reflects the state’s priorities of transit, preparations for military base realignment, safety and bridge rehabilitation. The transit requests include $1.3 billion for the proposed east-west Red Line in Baltimore as well as $1.8 million for two transit lines in the Washington suburbs. The request also includes $188 million for the extension of Baltimore’s Metro subway line in the direction of Morgan State University.

All in all, the list brings few surprises. Most of the requests are for projects that have long been high priorities of the O'Malley administration and, in many cases, the Ehrlich administration as well.

On the transit side, the state is also seeking $100 million for the Baltimore bus system, $60 million for local bus systems, $60 million to study Amtrak tunnel replacement and $126  million for a new BWI railroad station.

Highway request include $30 million each for BRAC-related projects around Andrews Air Force Base, Aberdeen Proving Ground, For Meade and the Bethesda National Naval Center. Money is also being sought for improvements on Interstate 70, 695 and 81.



May 14, 2009

Ex-mayor weighs in on infrastructure

You may remember William H. Hudnut III as the Republican mayor of Indianapolis who helped engineer the hijacking of the Colts in collusion with Robert Irsay.

You probably don't recall his later stint as the mayor of Chevy Chase.

But Hudnut, regardless of what he's done in the past, has written a perceptive article about the nation's infrastructure needs. You can find it here.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:15 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: For policy wonks only

May 8, 2009

Transportation policy outline leaks

The Infrastructurist is carrying a must-read article for serious federal transportation policy wonks. It isn't sexy. It isn't local. But it's important.

Read it here.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:13 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: For policy wonks only
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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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