Maryland Transit Administration spending is scheduled to fall by 58 percent under the state’s six-year plan — a steep drop that state transportation officials attribute to front-loaded costs of expensive MARC, metro and light rail vehicle replacements, but which advocates call a worrying sign of lacking transit investment in the future.
The agency’s spending is set to fall to $368.2 million in the 2024 fiscal year, from $878 million in the 2019 fiscal year, according to the state’s capital budget for transportation projects, which Maryland Department of Transportation officials presented to Baltimore officials at City Hall on Wednesday.
MTA CEO Kevin Quinn noted that much of MTA’s spending takes place in the first few years of the plan, on “once-in-a-generation projects.” Those include $448 million to replace Baltimore Metro Subway cars, $100 million to overhaul light rail cars and $168 million to replace and overhaul MARC coaches and locomotives.
Maryland’s top transit official promised to make extensive changes to his agency after an independent report identified problems including poor communication, lack of expertise, insufficient use of technology and not following industry standards.
“It just so happens that we’re doing a lot of vehicle replacements in the first few years,” Quinn said in an interview Tuesday. “That’s just how it’s been scheduled, based on historical age of the system.”
Brian O’Malley, president of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, a transit advocacy group, acknowledged that spending fluctuates and that agencies commonly budget less money in the later years to allow themselves flexibility.
The state routinely defers spending on capital projects, then increases spending as needed in those later years. If the MTA spends its money as planned, though, 2023 and 2024 will be the lowest-spending levels in 15 years, said O’Malley, who is no relation to the former governor.
“It’s a big system with a lot of riders, and it needs investment,” O’Malley said Tuesday. “I’m worried this document doesn’t provide as much investment as we need to set a good course for our future.”
BaltimoreLink, Gov. Larry Hogan’s overhaul of the Maryland Transit Administration regional bus system, has fallen short of delivering the “transformational” transit the governor promised, according to an analysis released Thursday by a rider advocacy group.
“The cost of maintaining transportation infrastructure is going up faster than inflation,” O’Malley said. “It’s not the time to be hitting a 15-year low for investing in MTA’s facilities and equipment.”
During the last legislative session, Del. Brooke Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat, tacked on a $178 million MTA funding increase to a bill requiring the state to grant an annual $167 million to the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority.
The Metro shutdown highlighted a years-long lack of MTA investment, said Lierman, expressing concern at the prospect of the agency spending less on its transit systems in future years.