February 24, 2023
Chair Marc Korman
Transportation and the Environment Subcommittee
House Office Building, Room 121
Annapolis, Maryland 21401
RE: SHA Budget Hearing: SHA should use federal funding flexibility for transit, safer streets, walking, and biking projects; implement truly locally-responsive context zones
Please accept this testimony on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, the leading organization advocating for walkable, bikeable, inclusive, transit-oriented communities as the most sustainable and equitable way for the Washington, DC region to grow and provide opportunities for all. We work extensively in suburban Maryland, focused on Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties.
We are a member of the Transform Maryland Transportation Coalition (TMTC). TMTC envisions a Maryland where all community members have access to a reliable, equitable, and sustainable public transportation system.
The Transform Maryland Transportation Coalition is asking MDOT to flex 50% of the federal funds, as allowed by federal law, from the Surface Transportation Block Grant and National Highway Performance Program formulas towards needed investments in eligible transit, safer streets, bicycle, and pedestrian projects, and vehicle electrification. Flexing funding to Maryland’s transit systems, safer streets, walk and bike projects will improve access to jobs, help people move out of poverty, and strengthen Maryland’s economy and economic competitiveness. With the 2021 passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Maryland now has access to historic levels of federal transportation funding and new encouragement from US DOT to take advantage of its funding flexibility. We hope the committee will make it clear to Secretary Wiedefeld and the SHA Administrator that the General Assembly is looking for a change in priorities from the previous administration. The Moore-Miller administration should use the flexibility of federal funding to address inequity, increase access to opportunity, and reduce vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions.
Transforming our road network for 21st Century Marylanders
With racial equity, Vision Zero, and climate change arising as top priorities, SHA has a key role to play in charting a new direction for Maryland. We should not be building new highways and arterials or widening existing ones, but instead make the most effective and efficient use of those we’ve already built. We need leadership from the State Highway Administration to commit to changing this crucial modal administration so it transforms our road network into a 21st century resource for all Marylanders.
Given our challenges, and the new priorities set by the Moore-Miller administration, we must reassess how we design and operate our extensive state road network. Crucial state roads serve town centers, bus corridors, transit hubs, small and large downtowns. Are these roads supporting current transit service running on them? Are these roads transit-ready so we can move more people using them? Are they safely designed to provide opportunities for pedestrians, wheelchair users, and bicyclists to reach their daily destinations? Retrofitting our transportation system so that it’s more transit-friendly, safer, and more accessible to all users is an urgent need in Maryland.
SHA can build on its Context Driven: Access and Mobility for All Users guide by matching its context zones to local land use and street type designations. SHA has designated some urban core and urban center context zones where the speed limit is set at 25 MPH, and 30 MPH respectively. These designations, however, are limited and not responsive to local governments’ land use plans and street type designations. We recommend that SHA change its approach to how it designates context zones by incorporating local governments’ designations. For example, none of the 15 Metro stations in Prince George’s County are given an Urban Core or Urban Center context zone designation by SHA. In contrast, Montgomery County has 6 SHA Urban Core context zones, all at Metro stations. Prince George’s was given one Urban Center designation by SHA — the campus of the University of Maryland at College Park. We ask that SHA revamp its approach to context zones to be more in line with local and statewide priorities.
Under the federal IIJA, SHA will have resources to retrofit our road system so it is transit-ready and safe for active transportation, and eliminate deferred maintenance and bring it all up to a state of good repair. As MDOT announced in September, “For the six years of the Draft FY 2023-2028 CTP, Maryland has programmed $1.3 billion in “new” IIJA federal formula funding: $178 million for airports, $166 million for transit and $966 million for highways.”
This funding can be used to repair the existing system and MDOT also can flex federal funding towards alternatives to road capacity expansion. This flexibility is due to the $966 million for highways allocated by formula, mostly from two programs (the National Highway Performance Program and the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program) which Congress has made more and more flexible over the years. These funds can now also be used at a state’s discretion for investments that include:
- Bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure (including paying for the maintenance of state sidewalks which is currently a cost pushed onto local governments)
- Transit (including major transit systems and projects, safe walk access to transit stops, bus stop amenities, dedicated bus lanes)
- Electric charging infrastructure
- Road safety improvements (including road diets and other measures to reduce design speeds to foster safer conditions for all users in mixed use urban and town center contexts).
Given the increasing importance of addressing climate change, we also ask that SHA build in a robust assessment of Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) to its activities, and account for ways the administration can reduce VMT by fostering transit-oriented communities with improved walk and bicycling conditions, more reliable and accessible transit service, and other measures to reduce single occupancy vehicle use and better use of low and no emissions travel modes.
MDOT faces tremendous challenges and opportunities this decade. There is no modal administration more important than SHA, which will determine whether our road system helps to deliver more transportation choices, safer streets, fewer potholes, and better climate and equity outcomes for Marylanders. We urge the General Assembly to ensure that SHA is a change agent committed to repairing and retrofitting our enormous road network to leave no one behind.
Thank you for your consideration.