Money crunch tests transit priorities
It was probably no coincidence that the front page of Wednesday's Sun ran an article about the state directing about $340 million in previously unallocated revenue to mass transit projects ("Md. shifts tack on transit policy," July 30) on the same day an editorial pointed out the lack of funds to repair our highways and bridges ("Running on empty," editorial, July 30).
By 2009, our federal highway trust fund is projected to have a negative balance of $4.3 billion if no tax increases replenish it.
Estimates for the amount the nation should be investing in improving our roads, bridges and tunnels run as high as $1.6 trillion in federal, state and local funds over a five-year period, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.
But where will the money come from?
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Maryland has 410 bridges deemed structurally deficient and 970 functionally obsolete.
While the first figure represents only 8.1 percent of all bridges in the state and the second one just 19 percent, I'd hate to be caught on one of these 410 "structurally deficient" bridges (defined as having one or more structural defects) when it fails.
Some states have turned to the private sector for assistance. For instance, the city of Chicago and the state of Indiana have each leased a toll road to a foreign-owned consortium, receiving a total of slightly more than $5 billion in the process.
Indiana's governor, Mitch Daniels, has noted that as far as he knows, his is the only state with a fully financed 10-year transportation plan, thanks to this infusion of more than $3 billion from Indiana's toll road lease.
Numerous studies have shown that unless we pour billions of dollars into our highway system, by the year 2035, those highways will become so congested that we'll be bumper to bumper along most major roadways.
Maryland's decision to shift funds to public transportation is forward thinking.
We should also look to inviting the private sector to participate in some of our transit planning and to provide a potential transit revenue source for the state.
Sidney M. Levy, Baltimore
The writer is a retired contractor who is writing a book on public-private infrastructure projects for the American Society of Civil Engineers.
In the editorial "Running on empty," The Sun notes that people are driving much less, that transportation funds are falling sharply and that one-quarter of our bridges are structurally deficient or obsolete.
This makes a powerful case against the Intercounty Connector.
Less driving means there is less justification for new highways. Falling transportation revenues mean that the ICC will suck away an even greater portion of the funds we need for higher-priority transit projects. And it makes no sense to build more roads if we can't afford to maintain the ones we already have.
Add to all this concern about global warming, sprawl and depletion of oil supplies, and it's hard to imagine why Gov. Martin O'Malley still supports this project.
Carl Henn, Rockville
Partisan litmus test erodes core values
Senior government officials broke the law and rejected the most qualified applicants for some Justice Department jobs based on illegal litmus tests regarding party loyalty and candidates' views on religion, abortion, guns and sexuality ("Politics dictated Justice Dept. hires," July 29). This misconduct by senior officials in the executive branch is an assault on fundamental American values.
Our democracy is built on the rule of law, checks and balances and protection of the civil service from partisanship, among other precepts.
The violations described in the report on Justice Department hiring practices affected the quality of our judges, U.S. attorneys and counterterrorism officials.
And I'm afraid the report only skimmed the surface of the high-level corruption.
The American people should be outraged and demand accountability for the public servants who abused power, substituted ideological prejudices for their duty to their country and broke the law.
Failure by Congress to thoroughly investigate and by the Justice Department to prosecute this corruption would be a tragic failure and send a chilling message to future politicians.
That message is: It's possible to get away with abusing government authority and the public's trust as a means to gain political power.
Roger C. Kostmayer, Baltimore
Earmarks drive nation into deficit
I read with interest the article regarding the large federal budget deficit expected this year ("Record budget deficit predicted," July 29).
The article noted the usual partisan blame game for overspending but did not mention the excessive spending caused by the congressional earmarks that accompany just about every spending bill approved by Congress.
It was astounding to see that even the latest mortgage bailout legislation includes large congressional earmarks.
Do we need to kick out of office every incumbent in Congress to stop the earmark process and the spending of resources we do not have?
Sam Davis, Towson
Israel didn't want real peace pact
It comes as no surprise to me that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "backed away yesterday from a target date ... for reaching a deal with the Palestinians by year's end" ("No accord by end of '08, Olmert says," July 29).
I don't believe that Israeli officials ever intended - or now intend - to reach an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state.
If they did, they would not continue to build Jewish-only settlements or construct that horrendous wall inside the occupied territories - both of which are illegal under international law.
I don't think Israel has ever been serious about negotiating with the Palestinians about anything.
Joanne Heisel, Columbia
Camp survivor an unsung hero
Thanks for printing the tribute to Felix Kestenberg ("Felix Kestenberg," July 25).
By some miracle, Mr. Kestenberg survived six years in concentration camps but came out as the most giving and helpful of people.
He was one of the quiet greats of our generation, and I am proud to have been his best friend for 40 years.
Ralph R. Haynal, Baltimore
New arena may be a liability for city
There was an aging house in my neighborhood that wasn't particularly large or glamorous but had been in the owner's family for 45 years. Its mortgage had been paid off years ago. The owner rented it to a nice family, and he made a tidy profit every year.
But then someone inspired him to "think big." So he evicted his long-time tenants, razed the house, took out a big loan and built a new, oversized residence.
At first he tried to sell the new house for an enormous profit, but as the housing market tanked, nobody was interested. Then he tried to rent it for the huge monthly amount it would take just to cover his loan payments. But the house was so out of character with the surrounding environment that nobody would pay that much to rent it.
It's been vacant for months now. The owner must be losing a fortune.
I would guess that he would give anything to turn back the calendar to the days when he was making a tidy profit on his property instead of hemorrhaging cash.
Mayor Sheila Dixon and Gov. Martin O'Malley might want to give him a call before pressing forward with their reckless plan for an unneeded new downtown arena ("Planners see arena reviving west side," July 26).
Jamie Smith, Towson