Promising more emphasis on mass transit and a return to Smart Growth principles to ease Maryland's traffic gridlock, Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley announced yesterday that he will nominate former Glendening administration official John D. Porcari to his old job of transportation secretary.
Porcari, 48, of Cheverly in Prince George's County was considered by many Annapolis watchers to be a top pick for the O'Malley administration because of his experience in managing one of the state's largest agencies. The department has more than 9,000 employees, and is spending $3.7 billion this year on operating and capital expenses.
O'Malley said he will be relying on Porcari to improve bus service, strengthen rail links between Baltimore and Washington and build new roads in a way that will not contribute to sprawl.
"He's a consummate professional, a terrific administrator and someone who deeply values providing public service, especially when it comes to improving our transportation network," O'Malley said.
Since the end of the Glendening administration, Porcari has been vice president for administrative affairs at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Porcari said yesterday that the state's transportation system is showing signs of strain that are likely to grow more pressing as a national military base realignment brings thousands of new workers and their families to Maryland.
He said the job of providing transportation infrastructure for the state's growing population will be complicated by a depleted transportation trust fund -- fed by gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees, among other revenue sources. But he said he wouldn't offer any suggestions for how to overcome that problem until O'Malley's transition team completes a report on the issue.
"Maryland has a world-class transportation system, and there's a lot of work we have to do to make it better," Porcari said.
O'Malley has said he will continue building the Inter-County Connector, the long-delayed road connecting Interstate 270 and Interstate 95 through Montgomery County, which was one of the transportation priorities of outgoing Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. But the governor-elect is facing pressure from leaders in suburban Washington to devote more spending to transportation in that gridlock-bound region, possibly funded through an increase in the gasoline tax.
O'Malley offered few specifics for his transportation program. He said he expects Porcari to reopen public discussion over controversial changes to bus routes made by the Ehrlich administration. O'Malley said he also wants to explore expansion of the Metro system in suburban Washington and Baltimore, as well as improved commuter rail service. He said he also wants Porcari to focus on security around the port of Baltimore and the rail system.
O'Malley said the federal government has sharply reduced investment in infrastructure in recent years and that he is hopeful that the new Democratic Congress will reverse the trend. But he said the state will likely have to find significant new funding to keep up with its needs, too.
"We're going to have to have a difficult debate about how quickly we're able to pay for these things," O'Malley said.