Tag: transportation costs

Roger Berliner: Saving Purple Line requires governor’s involvement

Without new money the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway may be put on hold, and one Montgomery County councilmember believes the governor needs to take a more active role so that doesn’t happen.

“I don’t think the governor has gotten engaged as much as he needs to,” said Councilmember Roger Berliner at an event with the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

“It pains to read the paper that in Virginia they’re going to pass a gas tax. They’re closer to it than we are, with Gov. McDonnell pushing it, cutting deals to make it happen. I don’t see it in Maryland,” Berliner said.

The Maryland Department of Transportation recently told the Montgomery County Council that the transportation projects would be put on hold.

Montgomery County Chair Nancy Navarro and Councilman Berliner sent them a letter calling the idea “unacceptable.”

“Nothing will happen right away in the new fiscal year on July 1,” Acting Deputy Secretary of Transportation Leif Dormsjo told WTOP.

“We would gradually wind down the project over the months. The consultants would be let go and the money would be reallocated to other purposes.”

Dormsjo said the shutdown date would likely be late summer, with the money for both projects redirected for MARC trains and MTA buses.

“I don’t understand the transportation department’s position. They’ve invested so much in this program. They need to work with the legislature and find the money,” says Berliner.

Dormsjo says the transportation department is working with lawmakers and remains optimistic that a deal will be reached.

“It has been extremely frustrating. Every time we’re close to construction, we run into a funding issue,” says Barbara Sanders of Silver Spring, who is active in the push to build the Purple Line.

The 16-mile light rail line from Bethesda to New Carrollton would cost about $2.15 billion and is slated to open in 2020, although a delay could push back the date several years.

“We need this job centers in Bethesda, Silver Spring to New Carrollton interconnected. It’s critical to the revitalization of these communities. It’s critical for people to avoid this crushing Beltway traffic,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

“The problem will only get worse if we don’t give them options like the Purple Line,” Schwartz said.

“Current ridership data suggests that there very few riders today that are making the New Carrollton-to-Bethesda trip. The Purple Line would actually increase demand on the existing Metro system and at our core stations. We are currently out of capacity in our core stations,” says Shyam Kannan, director of planning for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the agency that runs the subway.

Kannan says the Purple Line would only increase the need for Momentum, an effort from the agency to increase rail and bus capacity to deal with rising population and demand.

“I want construction to start 2015, as planned. I don’t want another five-year delay. It would be awful,” says Ben Ross with the Action Committee for Transit of Montgomery County.

Delegate Mike Smigiel, a Republican from the Eastern Shore, opposes raising the gas tax and replenishing the Transportation Trust Fund because he thinks it’ll drive Maryland residents to Virginia and Delaware to fill up their tanks.

Smigiel and other critics also are unwilling to accept tax increases on all Marylanders to help pay for projects that only benefit Baltimore and Montgomery County.

Smigiel points to the InterCounty Connector, partially financed with tax dollars, as an example of what he calls a “boondoggle.”

“This transportation funding issue isn’t just about transit like the Purple Line. This is also about money to deal with a huge backlog of road projects. The rural areas have roads with potholes, roads that need paving and aging bridges,” said Schwartz.

“There are people who don’t like Montgomery County because of our role in the state, but the reality is that we provide 30 percent of the tax revenues for the state. We are the economic engine for the state of Maryland. If you plug the engine, it’s not good for Western Maryland, Baltimore or Southern Maryland,” Berliner said.

The Department of Transportation tells WTOP that it’s drafting a letter in response to the Montgomery County Council that will be sent in the next few weeks.

Read the original article on WTOP.

Photo courtesy of Ari Ashe.

Virginia Governor Proposes Eliminating State Gasoline Tax

Virginia would become the first state in the country to eliminate its gasoline tax if a major transportation funding plan proposed by Governor Bob McDonnell (R) is approved by the General Assembly.

Revenue from the state gas tax of 17.5 cents per gallon, last raised by lawmakers in 1986, would be replaced by an increase in the state sales tax. That rate is currently 5 percent; the governor wants to raise it to 5.8 percent.

McDonnell’s proposal would also increase by half the portion of the sales tax already dedicated to road maintenance and operations. However, during the first three years, that tax would provide $300 million for the Silver Line rail project to Dulles International Airport — a $5.5 billion project that Virginia has funded only $150 million to date.

“Transportation is a core function of government.  Children can’t get to school; parents waste too much time in traffic; and businesses can’t move their goods without an adequate and efficient transportation system,” said McDonnell at an afternoon news conference, flanked by members of the General Assembly who will dissect his sweeping proposals during the 45-day legislative session.

If lawmakers pass the governor’s entire plan, which also includes higher vehicles registration fees and a $100 charge on electric and natural gas vehicles, Virginia would receive more than $3 billion over five years to fund road construction and transit development, including intercity passenger rail.

A primary aim of the funding package is to stop the yearly transfer of construction dollars from the Commonwealth Transportation Fund to required maintenance projects, a process that will leave the fund empty by the end of the decade.

“My transportation funding and reform package is intended to address the short and long-term transportation funding needs of the Commonwealth. Declining funds for infrastructure maintenance, stagnant motor fuels tax revenues, increased demand for transit and passenger rail, and the growing cost of major infrastructure projects necessitate enhancing and restructuring the Commonwealth’s transportation program,” McDonnell said.

The governor has indicated in recent weeks that the state gasoline tax’s diminishing returns minimizes its effectiveness in raising new revenues.  Higher vehicle fuel efficiency standards, among other factors, have eaten into the tax’s buying power. The 17.5 cents per gallon tax currently accounts for about one-third of the state’s transportation funding, although the tax has lost 55 percent of its purchasing power when adjusted for inflation since 1986, the last time it was raised.

Instead of raising the tax or pegging it to annual inflation adjustments, the governor wants to eliminate it, although the state diesel tax would remain in place. Virginia would then abandon a fundamental premise of transportation funding: motorists who use the roads pay for the roads in the form of taxes.

“If this were adopted it would mean there would be no relationship to the extent to which people use the transportation network and what they actually pay for it,” said Bob Chase, the president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, which favors road construction as a solution to traffic congestion.

“It’s a dramatic proposal to shift funding from the gas tax to the sales tax, and we’re going to have to look at what it means when you disconnect the tax from the actual use of the roadways,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and frequent critic of the McDonnell administration’s funding priorities.

The General Assembly has for years evaded the responsiblity of injecting significant new tax revenue into transportation. While all observers agree the state’s needs total in the billions, there is no consensus on the best way forward. To Schwartz, prioritizing road construction amounts to squandering precious funds that could be used to develop public transit systems.

“Instead of addressing metropolitan area needs, the administration is spending $1.2 billion on Rt. 460, $200 to $400 million on the Charlottesville Bypass, and proposing to spend billions on the Coalfields Expressway and an estimated $2 billion on a Northern Virginia outer beltway,” he said.

Click here to read the original story on Transportation Nation.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (photo via flickr)

 

Route 460 Would Waste Billions of Dollars and Divert Scarce Revenues From Higher Priority Needs

Route 460 Would Waste Billions of Dollars and Divert Scarce Revenues From Higher Priority Needs

A fact sheet comparing 2009 traffic volumes on Route 460 against other roadways in Virginia, using VDOT’s traffic volume data. The data demonstrates that traffic is not projected to increase by an amount that warrants the cost and risk of this project.

REGIONAL – Urban Land Institute’s “Beltway Burden”

REGIONAL – Urban Land Institute’s “Beltway Burden”

To find affordable homes, many in the workforce have followed the popular advice to “drive till you qualify” by moving to remote suburbs such as Warren and Fauquier counties, VA, in the west; Spotsylvania County, VA, and Charles County, MD, in the south; Frederick County in the north; and Calvert County, MD, in the east.  As reflected in this report, however, efforts to save on housing expenses often lead to higher transportation costs, with the result that an even larger portion of household budgets are consumed by the combined burden of housing and transportation costs.

Click  here to view full report >>