Maryland legislature gives final OK to bill that would increase MTA funding

The Maryland General Assembly on Thursday approved legislation requiring Gov. Larry Hogan to allocate an extra $178 million over three years to the state agency that operates the subway in Baltimore, which was recently closed for a month for emergency repairs.

The measure to provide more money to the Maryland Transit Administration passed the House of Delegates 96-41. The bill now goes to Gov. Larry Hogan, who has said he would sign it.

The legislation also requires Maryland to award a $167 million annual grant to the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority — provided Virginia and the District of Columbia match the funds. The authority operates the Washington Metro, which has been plagued by unreliable service and safety problems after years of under-funding of maintenance projects.

The legislation initially called for new funding only for the Washington Metro. But an effort by Baltimore-area lawmakers to include the MTA received added impetus in February when the Baltimore Metro was forced to shut down for a month to repair deteriorated tracks that posed a threat of derailment.

The closure brought increased attention to the needs of the MTA, which operates the Baltimore region’s transit systems as well as MARC commuter trains and commuter buses serving both of the state’s urban regions.

“It increased the urgency and demonstrated to policy makers how important this was,” said Del. Brooke Lierman, the Baltimore Democrat who led the effort to include the region in the bill. She called the bill’s passage “a big step forward for the MTA and its riders.”

The legislation would require the governor to allocate minimum 4.4 percent increases in the MTA’s $1.6 billion operating budget for each of the three years starting in mid-2019. It also requires a capital infusion of $29 million a year above current spending levels for those three years, money that could be used for the Baltimore subway or other MTA systems. Together that adds up to $178 million for the agency.

Analysts for the Department of Legislative Services warned lawmakers earlier this year that Hogan’s administration was not increasing MTA’s operating budget to keep up with inflation in the costs of providing services.

“MTA was flat-funded this year, which in essence results in a decline for funding our core bus services because of required contractual increases for commuter bus, MARC rail and [paratransit] services,” Lierman said.

The money the governor is required to allocate would come out of the Transportation Trust Fund, which is financed largely by gas taxes, vehicle registration fees and taxes on car sales.

In addition to its funding provisions, the legislation also requires the MTA to conduct a comprehensive assessment of all of its capital assets — its Baltimore buses, MARC locomotives and the tracks and cars of its Metro and light rail systems.

The bill instructs the MTA to report its needs to the legislature over the next four years. In addition, the MTA will develop a long-term plan for services in its “core service area” in the Baltimore region over the next 25 years.

“We are long overdue for a new plan,” Lierman said.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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