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Maryland’s latest transportation budget reduces MTA capital funding by 10%

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.

The MTA already faces a shortfall of more than $2 billion over the next decade to keep the agency’s transit systems safe, in compliance with regulations and enhanced with new technology and mobility options, according to the agency’s first Capital Needs Inventory. The inventory was required by the legislature following the emergency shutdown of the Baltimore Metro Subway.

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The 2020-2025 draft transportation budget “does not reflect progress towards meeting MTA’s immediate, pressing maintenance needs, or the needs of the region’s commuters for a system that connects us more effectively and helps grow the economy,” said Democratic Del. Brooke Lierman, a transit advocate who represents Baltimore and sponsored last year’s Maryland Metro/Transit Funding Act.

The Hogan administration will spend $15.3 billion across Maryland’s transportation network over the six-year budget period, and invest $3.1 billion in the state’s tolls and bridges, Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn said in a statement.

A $1.1 billion reduction in the state’s overall transportation budget from the previous one “is due to increased operating transit expenditures and delivering on a record construction program in record time,” Rahn said in the statement.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said Maryland sets a national example with a “balanced, all-inclusive approach to infrastructure.”

“No governor in Maryland history has invested more in transit, and we are moving forward on nearly all of the highest priority transportation projects in every single jurisdiction across the state," Hogan said in a statement.

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.

That suggests the state has no plans for new transit projects after the Purple Line light rail is completed in the Washington suburbs, said Brian O’Malley, president of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, a rider advocacy group. The Hogan administration has increased spending on highway and road projects at the expense of transit, O’Malley said, citing cancelled projects including the Baltimore Red Line, the Bayview MARC station and the MARC Northeast Maintenance Yard.

“The reason the MTA’s spending goes down is that as Purple Line is being constructed, there’s no project like it in the pipeline,” O’Malley said in an interview. “Their priorities are elsewhere.”

The MTA laid the first track of the Purple Line last week, Rahn said, and the agency is investing in several ongoing projects in the Baltimore area: the Kirk Bus Facility renovations and replacements of the MARC coaches and locomotives, the Light Rail cars and the Metro Subway rail cars and signal system.

“The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance continues to ignore record investments in [the] MTA,” Rahn said in the statement.

The draft budget sets MTA capital spending at its lowest level since before the passage of the 2013 Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act, O’Malley said.

The drop is partially due to a drop in expected bond proceeds to $2.2 million, the lowest level since 2013, according to O’Malley. Gasoline tax revenues are expected to generate $300 million more in the latest six-year budget than in the previous one.

Rahn will collect feedback on the draft budget from local officials across the state in a series of meetings this fall.

Baltimore, Carroll, Howard and Harford counties and Baltimore City will be the first jurisdictions to be briefed on the budget:

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  • Sept. 19 - Baltimore County, 10 a.m., Room UU 0305 on the third floor of Towson University’s student union, 8000 York Road in Towson
  • Sept. 26 - Carroll County, 1:30 p.m., Reagan Room (#003), County Office Building, 225 North Center St. in Westminster
  • Sept. 26 - Howard County, 5 p.m., Howard Building, Banneker Room, 3430 Court House Dr. in Ellicott City
  • Sept. 27 - Harford County, 10 a.m., Harford County Council Chambers, 212 South Bond St. in Bel Air
  • Sept. 27 - Baltimore City, 2 p.m., City Hall, Curran Conference Room, fourth floor, 100 North Holliday Street in Baltimore

Baltimore City Councilman Ryan Dorsey, who chairs the council’s transportation committee, said he has questioned the transportation secretary in previous years’ briefings about the state’s priorities.

Dorsey supports expanding transit, and he sponsored “Complete Streets” legislation that required the city’s Transportation Department to create new street-design standards prioritizing pedestrians, bicyclists and other road users over cars.

“Baltimore City needs far, far more investment in public transportation than the MTA is currently funded to provide, and the needs are not likely to lessen,” Dorsey said. "If we don’t put in that investment as necessary, we will see a disparity continue to grow in terms of access to opportunity and the assuredness of climate change disaster continue to be escalated.”

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