Monday, October 25, 2010

Maryland gubernatorial candidates on transportation

In the final days before the Nov. 2 election, candidates for elected offices are pulling out all of the stops to distinguish themselves from their competition. Maryland voters who will cast their ballots for governor have a good idea about how the candidates would address transportation issues during the next four years.

The candidates are Gov. Tom O’Malley, a Democrat, and former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, a Republican.

One big difference between the candidates is how they view a pair of proposed transit funding projects. On his website, O’Malley hypes his support of the Red Line in the Baltimore area and Purple Line in Washington, DC, which would be partially funded by the federal government. The state would borrow money for at least some of their portion.

O’Malley says the projects would put the state “in a position to compete for federal funds as the projects enter their engineering and construction phases.”

Ehrlich, who was governor from 2003-2007, indicates he will develop “safe and cost-effective alternatives” for the Purple and Red lines. On his website, the light rail projects are described as “neither cost effective nor practical in light of Maryland’s depleted transportation trust fund.”

He writes that Maryland does not have the $3.6 billion needed to build the projects and “any further funds spent on them are simply stolen from systems that need immediate help.”

Ehrlich is sure to point out that revenue from the TTF is down significantly since O’Malley took office, which corresponds with one of the worst economic downturns in the nation’s history. Since 2007, the state has received reduced fuel, titling, registration and sales tax revenue, as well as fewer toll and transit fares.

To help the state rebound from this downturn in revenue, Ehrlich plans to establish a “consensus commission.” The commission would recommend “realistic ways” to fund Maryland’s transportation system.

It would be worth keeping a close eye on possible solutions touted by the proposed commission. Hard to imagine more toll options would not get serious consideration.

Capital Beltway improvements are included on Ehrlich’s to-do list. To ease regional congestion, his site promises “more effective use of HOV lanes on I-270 and improvements on I-495.

In an effort to aid local roadwork, Ehrlich says he will commit an additional $60 million in state road repair money to counties.

O’Malley’s site focuses strongly on transportation options, including transit and ride sharing, which could keep more people off roads.

It is good to see the governor highlight alternative modes of travel in the state. Getting commuters to be more active in reducing congestion is a win-win scenario for everyone who travels roadways. But, it would be nice to hear more about how O’Malley would address road funding during a second term.