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Maryland’s next governor will have resources to upgrade transit | READER COMMENTARY

A recent editorial in The Baltimore Sun suggested that Gov. Larry Hogan left the door open to reviving the Red Line in Baltimore but asserted “there is no pot of cash sitting around” to pay for such a project. We say, don’t give up so easily (”Surprise! Gov. Hogan opens door to Red Line revival (but only slightly),” June 6)!

Maryland spends about $5 billion annually on transportation using a combination of state and federal funding. Maryland’s next governor will have wide discretion in how we allocate that transportation budget and we will urge the next administration to reprioritize transit, including rejuvenating the Red Line, the planned east-west rail line in Baltimore.

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To begin, our state transportation funds will stretch further if we limit state highway spending to system preservation — fixing roads, highways and bridges — instead of constantly widening roads.

Maryland has a huge $7.5 billion budget surplus. Instead of spending it on gimmicky gas tax “holidays” that make us more dependent on oil, Maryland could use a portion of it for our state match to go after major new federal funding.

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In 2015, Maryland was slated to receive $900 million in federal funding through the New Starts grant program to build the Red Line before Governor Hogan stopped the project. Today, New Starts has more money than ever. Maryland should restart the Red Line and put together a proposal for federal funding.

Additionally, a new governor will have the flexibility to use other pots of federal transportation funding for transit, rather than highways. Federal money can also support transit operations in the near term. Other states use federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funding for transit operations. Maryland has not, but we could tap into these funds to run buses more frequently in underserved areas including Baltimore’s east-west corridor.

If we prioritize public transit, the benefits will be many. Better transit and less driving alone mean less air pollution which helps us address the climate crisis. A better transit system helps connect more people to jobs which fuels economic growth. Maryland’s next governor will have power over how to spend $5 billion annually. Let’s get our priorities right.

— Brian O’Malley, Baltimore

The writer is president and CEO of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance.

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