Objecting to the Hogan administration’s reduced spending on public transit projects, Baltimore officials and lawmakers grilled Maryland’s secretary of transportation at City Hall Friday.
The Maryland Transit Administration, which runs buses, subway, trains and light rail, is facing a $2 billion shortfall for capital projects over the next decade ― and the latest six-year capital budget for the agency is 10% smaller than current spending levels.
That decrease in funding for public transit sparked outcry from Baltimore officials when Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn came to City Hall to solicit feedback on the state’s priorities.
Baltimore’s Director of Transportation Steve Sharkey told Rahn his proposals cut public transit “in favor of higher spending on highway and road projects.”
“Today, I urge you to please restore funding levels,” Sharkey said.
Rahn called the desire for more transit funding “totally understandable.” But he argued the reduction to funding for MTA is merely the result of completing current capital projects efficiently.
“Funding has not been cut from MTA,” Rahn argued.
In July, the state reported that the Maryland Transit Administration faces a funding shortfall of more than $2 billion over the next decade — money that is needed to keep the agency’s transit systems running safely, according to the agency’s first Capital Needs Inventory. At the same time, money for Maryland Transit Administration capital projects is set to plummet by $345 million, or about 10%, over the next six fiscal years, according to the state’s latest draft transportation budget.
Under the draft budget, the MTA’s spending on development and evaluation would be reduced to $1 million, for a single project: a pedestrian bridge connecting Cherry Hill to the Patapsco Avenue Light Rail Station, with engineering funding scheduled to be allocated in 2025.
Transit advocates, including Central Maryland Transportation Alliance president Brian O’Malley, argue the Hogan administration has increased spending on highway and road projects at the expense of transit, citing the cancellation of projects such as the Baltimore Red Line, the Bayview MARC station and the MARC Northeast Maintenance Yard.
“The success of the Baltimore’s region’s economy depends on improving our transit system, which is why enhancing and expanding transit service is a key administration priority, and a top priority for the Baltimore region,” Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Governor Hogan and Secretary Rahn to ensure that MTA has the capital funding needed to not only meet state of good repair needs, but also make smart investments to deliver a transit network that meets the needs of transit riders and businesses across the region.”
At City Hall, Del. Brooke Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat, took issue with Rahn’s statement that there weren’t in fact cuts to transit ― noting the reduction to capital project spending.
“That’s a direct hit to Baltimore City,” Lierman said. “We need you to invest in Baltimore City. .... This delegation is not going to sit idly by while you try to dismantle our transit system.”
Rahn told her he has to balance Baltimore’s priorities with those of suburban counties.
“For more transit to come here, what you’re really saying is less money should go to other transportation issues around the state,” Rahn said.
The transportation department’s planning budget is the subject of a series of local government consultation meetings referred to as the “road show.” Rahn recently held meetings with local officials in Howard, Carroll and Harford counties in addition to Baltimore.
A final transportation planning budget is slated to be submitted in 2020 along with Gov. Larry Hogan’s budget.