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Fry hopes study spurs state to find money for transportation projects

Civic leaders said Wednesday that they are hoping a new study of Maryland’s transportation improvement needs will spur the state’s investment in infrastructure.

Donald C. Fry

“This report actually brings to a head those projects that are critically important for economic growth and prosperity throughout the state of Maryland,” said Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, an advocate of regional transportation improvements.

The report, by Washington, D.C.-based transportation research nonprofit TRIP, ranked the top 40 projects that would help improve transportation and quality of life in Maryland. Members of TRIP and other regional transportation advocacy organizations held a news conference at the MARC Station outside of Camden Yards Wednesday afternoon to discuss the report.

At the top of that list is a $5.8 billion widening and renovation of the Interstate 95 and I-495 in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, with an initial $800 million in improvements to the stretch from the American Legion Bridge to I-270. An $885 million replacement of the Governor Nice Bridge in Charles County ranks second.

Four of the top 10 projects are in the Baltimore metropolitan area, including the project in third place on TRIP’s list: the $1.2 billion widening and bridge rehabilitation and replacement on I-695, including an initial $85 million to improve three bridges. Other projects in the top 10 include the $220 million widening of three miles of Route 295 from four to six lanes, the $2.2 billion construction of the red line from Woodlawn to the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and the $104 million widening of a northbound section of Route 29 in Howard County.

“We certainly recognize that these projects represent a significant investment by the state and regional governments, but we also believe … the benefits of these projects will far outweigh the costs of the project,” said Frank Moretti, director of policy and research for TRIP.

The projects were ranked based on short-term economic benefits, such as job creation, but more emphasis was placed on long-term benefits, such as increased mobility, efficiency and business productivity.

“The front and center part of the ranking is its impact on economic development,” Moretti said.

But the projects won’t be possible without more money.

The state’s 23.5-cent gas tax is the largest source of transportation funding, but it hasn’t been raised since 1992. Fry, who has led the GBC since 2002, said he has been advocating for an increase in the gas tax for the last nine years.

“Without some addition revenue, none of these projects can be advanced. … Frequently, I say that the most significant economic challenge confronting us … from a development perspective is the lack of transportation funding,” Fry said, adding that “transportation funding doesn’t become a real issue until there’s a crisis.”

The report makes it “hard for me to believe that we have not reached that crisis stage at this time,” he said.

On Tuesday, Gov. Martin O’Malley again floated the idea of increasing the state’s sales tax from 6 to 7 percent, with the additional revenue dedicated to transportation projects. The governor had suggested the 1-percentage point increase in January as a remedy to the state’s money problems.

Earlier in the session, the governor had also proposed a plan to extend the sales tax to gasoline. That plan has failed to garner support.

The Baltimore metropolitan area ranks sixth for worst urban congestion, with commuters annually spending 52 hours in traffic, according to the 2011 Urban Mobility Report by the Texas Transportation Institute at The Texas A&M University System. The Washington, D.C., area has the worst traffic in the country, with commuters spending 74 hours in traffic every year. The national average is 34 hours.

While its level of infrastructure deterioration is similar to that of other states, Moretti said the congestion surrounding Baltimore and Washington, D.C., is what sets Maryland’s needs apart.

But some say widening roads may not be a cure for congestion.

“The problem with the bigger, better roads approach, is it encourages more development along those roads,” said Michael Bradley, professor and economics department chair at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

The ideal would be efficient and convenient public transportation, but that would require not only additional infrastructure, but a cost advantage, Bradley said.

“Price becomes a big issue, because if you’ve got people that are used to using their cars, about the only way you can get them onto the subway is making the subway cheaper than their cars,” he said.

TOP 10 PROJECTS

1. The Widening of I-95/I-495 in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties – $5.8 billion

2. Replacing the Governor Nice Bridge in Charles County – $885 million

3. Widening and bridge rehabilitation and replacement on I-695 in Baltimore County – $1.2 billion

4. Purple Line from Bethesda to New Carrolton in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties – $1.9 billion

5. Widening and Interchanges on Route 5 in Prince George’s County – $1.1 billion

6. Widening Route 295 from four lanes to six in Anne Arundel County- $220 million

7. Red Line Light Rail Transitway from Woodlawn to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center – $2.2 billion

8. Widening Route 29 Northbound in Howard County – $104 million

9. Interchange construction at Routes 97 and 28 in Montgomery County – $142 million

10. Interchange construction at Route 210 and Kerby Hill Road/Livingston Road in Prince George’s County- $126 million

OTHER BALTIMORE AREA PROJECTS

15. Converting Route 32 to a dual four-lane controlled access facility from I-70 to Route 26 – $275 million

18. Additional Penn Line track and two new platforms at the BWI/MARC/AMTRAK station – $612 million

19. Upgrading Route 32 to four lanes from Route 108 to I-70 in Howard County – $291 million

28. Widening Route 175 from four lanes to six in Anne Arundel County – $336 million

31. Improvements to BRAC intersections near Aberdeen Proving Ground – $91 million

32. Widening Route 198 from two lanes to four in Anne Arundel County – $222 million

34. Relocating the Martin State Airport MARC Station to the north side of Route 43 – $25 million

Source: TRIP