Marylanders pay more in vehicle operating costs, due to rough roads, according to report

Maryland drivers pay an added $425 in vehicle costs because of rough roads, compared with the national average of $335, according to a report being released today by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.

The report examines how states spend federal money for maintenance of aging highways and bridges. Although Maryland has a history of major road construction, the report praises the state for devoting money to repairs before new construction.

"Maryland inherits some really bad projects in this respect, but it has gotten better over the years," said Phineas Baxandall, senior analyst for tax and budget policy for U.S. PIRG and an author of the report.

According to the analysis, politicians, influenced by lobbyists for the construction industry, direct more money toward building new roads than repairing infrastructure. And states face few penalties when they spend federal maintenance money on other purposes, such as highway expansion.

Maryland drivers feel the impact of poorly maintained roads. In 2008, the state ranked 37th in its percentage of road quality, with 41 percent of roads in "less than good" condition, according to the report. The national average was 45 percent. Among metropolitan areas, Baltimore has the 15th-highest additional repair and accident costs due to poor roads — $589.

Baxandall said mega highway projects in the past have sapped Maryland's repair budgets, and people are also driving long distances, leaving Maryland roads in poor condition.

The Baltimore-Towson metro area ranks seventh in annual spending on bridge repair per square foot, and Maryland was 15th.

As of December, 7 percent of the state's bridges were considered "structurally deficient," with a major defect in its support structure or a crack in its roadway. Nationwide, 12 percent of bridges were structurally deficient.

"Unfortunately, all states, including Maryland, are experiencing a transportation funding crisis," said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Ragina Averella. However, she said AAA "applauds Maryland for making road maintenance and system preservation a priority."

Maryland transportation officials have adjusted projects already under way to preserve money to fix existing roads. For example, the Maryland Transportation Authority scaled back construction of express toll lanes for an Interstate 95-Beltway interchange in the White Marsh area amid declining toll revenue and the need to repair bridges over the Susquehanna River and parts of Interstate 895 north of the Harbor Tunnel.

Baxandall described highway construction sprees as a "budget time bomb," because the new roads will require maintenance 20 to 50 years later.

"It's much more appealing to have a ribbon-cutting and push off repair, defer it to be somebody else's problem in the future, even though it's much more costly to repair later," he said.