The Washington Post recently printed an editorial stressing the vital necessity of completing a contract to buy more cars for Metro, explaining that their purchase is vital to prevent massive overcrowding in 2020 and beyond. Yet, they also express concern that the cost may be beyond Maryland’s means:
The 220 new rail cars, with the infrastructure to support them, will cost nearly $1.5 billion over six years, on top of existing funding commitments for modernizing the system from Metro’s main local benefactors: the District, Virginia and Maryland. A particular question mark is Maryland, which, despite new gas tax revenue, looks to have over-promised for the above-ground Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, the Red Line in Baltimore and an array of highway projects.
But despite these real cost issues, the Post has been pressing heavily for these exact transportation projects despite also editorializing about the high cost (see here, here, and here). And, as they point out, the recent hike in the gas tax in not nearly enough.
Gaining the full benefit from our past investments in public transit requires regular maintenance expenditures. Maintenance is not sexy compared to a new project. Lack of funding has forced Metro to defer substantial maintenance–a chicken coming home to roost in a variety of ways obvious to riders (see Washington Post articles here, here, here, and here).
Beyond maintenance, Metro also needs to invest in adding cars to maximize the investment costs already sunk and keep it an attractive option. Additionally, Metro also constantly faces the costs associated with upgrading technology–the switch from Farecards to SmartTrip will likely soon be followed methods that allow consumers to pay using their phone.
As Democratic Delegate Nominee Marc Korman (D-16) has emphasized in his campaign, Metro needs a dedicated funding source. We need to fund investment in Metro infrastructure maintenance and upgrades on a constant basis–not only when a crisis creates public demand to fix it.
Similarly, Maryland needs to plan how it’s going to fund planned projects on a long-term basis. Beyond finding the money to build them, Maryland needs ongoing funding sources for the Purple Line and the (Baltimore) Red Line light rail projects.
Gov. Martin O’Malley and the General Assembly took the first bite in taking the politically courageous step of raising the gas tax–an unpopular but necessary and pro-environment step to address our State’s transportation needs. However, as the Post points out, it’s not enough. More serious global transportation budgeting is needed. It would force Maryland’s government to weigh its choices and thus make more intelligent ones.
Addressing transportation needs is critical to Maryland’s economic future. We need to plan for expenditures in a cohesive manner and also for the revenue stream not just to build but to maintain them. How our leaders plan to do this strikes me as a good question to ask candidates in this political season.