Business leaders employing thousands of workers in Baltimore are urging Gov. Larry Hogan to increase the Maryland Transit Administration’s funding for projects in the area, saying in a letter that “the inadequacy of the current transportation network is hindering workforce participation and economic potential in our region.”
In a separate letter, some of the same business executives asked MTA Administrator Kevin Quinn to provide a list of the projects “that will be delayed or deferred” over the next six years, when the agency’s funding for new projects is expected to fall by 10%.
The letters, both dated Monday, from the Baltimore Business Mobility Roundtable and the Greater Baltimore Committee, respectively, raised concerns about the planned reduced funding, especially in light of the agency’s estimated $2 billion shortfall for safety, regulatory compliance and system enhancements over the next decade.
“The draft [budget] fails to meet the funding level ... that is necessary to reduce the multibillion dollar backlog needed to maintain the existing system in a state of good repair,” the mobility roundtable wrote to Hogan. “A month-long shutdown of the Baltimore metro system last August is a stark reminder of the importance of adequate system maintenance and preservation.”
Hogan is investing more than $14 billion in transit, “as part of a balanced, all-inclusive approach to infrastructure," said Mike Ricci, a spokesman for the governor.
“No governor in the history of the state has invested more," Ricci said in a statement.
Much of that investment is in the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The state’s investment in WMATA alone will be larger in the 2022 fiscal year than in the State Highway Administration, Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn said.
“In fact, while transit only accounts for 8.5 percent of commuters, it takes up 42 percent of our budget,” Rahn said in a statement.
The agency has attributed the falling capital funding to the completion of “once-in-a-generation projects,” such as a $448 million replacement of Baltimore Metro Subway cars, a $100 million overhaul of light rail cars and a $168 million replacement and overhaul of MARC locomotives and coaches.
“As part of record investments in MDOT MTA, we continue to make great progress on transit initiatives in the Baltimore region, including overhauls and improvements for MARC, Light Rail, and Metro,” Rahn said.
With the operating budget included, overall MTA funding will grow by $154 million in the next six years, Rahn said.
“We’re not cutting, we’re increasing funding for MDOT MTA,” the transportation secretary said. “Our official draft [budget plan] reflects the aggressive rise in mandated transit operating expenditures.”
But the Greater Baltimore Committee said in its letter to Quinn that “the current system preservation needs as outlined in your report are significant enough to warrant sustained if not increased capital funding levels."
The GBC, an influential group of business and civic leaders, said the MTA also should begin to undertake new capital projects as it completes the ones underway.
Instead, the committee is worried the reduced capital budget will delay needed projects to preserve the existing systems, increasing the cost and time to return them to good repair and jeopardizing the systems’ safe and efficient operation.
“We’re not getting anything new, and we’re not getting even the adequate funds needed to maintain what we currently have,” said Donald C. Fry, the GBC president and CEO, in an interview.
The GBC also expressed concern in the letter about the ability for the agency to implement improvements and expansions to be proposed in the upcoming Central Maryland Regional Transit plan.
The Baltimore Business Mobility Roundtable organized this summer “to identify and advocate for the transportation priorities necessary to support and advance our growing regional economy.”
Its letter was signed by executives from more than a dozen companies and other entities, including The Bozzuto Group, Exelon Utilities, Johns Hopkins University, Plank Industries, the Greater Washington Partnership, the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, Carefirst BlueCross BlueShield, Howard Bank, Venable LLP, the BWI Business Partnership, T. Rowe Price Group, Tradepoint Atlantic, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management and the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore.
The group cheered the $125 million federal grant to expand the Howard Street Tunnel to allow freight trains to carry shipping containers stacked two-high under the city and urged the governor to continue negotiations with CSX Transportation, the B&O Railroad successor that owns the tunnel, over how to cover for the remaining $103 million in costs.
But the members said they were concerned about a lack of funding to “improve access to key employment centers” such as Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and Port Covington, “nor does it support key projects of regional impact such as the redevelopment of Penn Station.”
“The Baltimore business community respectfully requests your leadership in directing MDOT to increase funding for MTA — the system upon which our workforce relies — in the final FY2020-2025 [budget plan] that is transmitted to the legislature in 2020," the roundtable wrote to the governor.
The GBC’s letter to Quinn was signed by its president and CEO Don Fry. The group shares many of its members with the roundtable, including Fry. Baltimore Sun Media publisher and editor-in-chief Trif Alatzas is also a member of the GBC.
Fry said the letters followed an earlier one from the committee to Hogan in August, to which Fry said the governor did not respond.
“To provide more clarity on the impact of the proposed cuts on transit operations in the Baltimore region,” the GBC wrote, “we respectfully request that you provide a list of projects that will be delayed or deferred over the six-year period as a result of the approximately $85-95 million cut to capital funding in current draft [budget plan].”
Fry called the group’s request for a list of deferred MTA projects “responsible.”
“We want to make sure we’re fighting for Baltimore,” Fry said.
The roundtable stressed in its letter that its members are working “along with our thousands of employees” to create “a stronger Maryland.”
"We cannot do it alone,” the letter said. “Adequate investments in our transportation system today will create a more competitive economy for decades to come.”