Monday, February 25, 2013

Transportation in Whole

Maryland needs a comprehensive transportation policy.  Not a gas tax.  Not greater protections for the transportation trust fund.  Not more rail.  A comprehensive transportation policy.

Over the weekend, I looked to our southern neighbor with some envy as Virginia passed an $880 million transportation funding overhaul that includes a decrease in the gas tax (to tie it to inflation at 3.5%) and an increase in the state sales tax from 5% to 5.3%.  There is even a regional funding component that would boost the sales tax to 6% in areas like Northern Virginia, where the State expects to spend a significant portion of the funds.  This bill also included a $100 registration fee for hybrids, in light of the fact that users will be paying less in gas taxes.

The thing about it is, both Democrats and Republicans are luke warm on this plan.  Neither side "loves it", neither side "hates it".  There is a fee on hybrid vehicles for crying out loud!  But, it gets the job done.  It moves the ball.  Compromise.

I loved this quote from Loudon County Delegate Tag Greason (R) in Robert McCartney's column on the bill:

“What I thought I was going to do [in the legislature] was make sure that I never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever raised taxes, because there are a few people back home who sent me here to do that,” Greason said. “But as I think about where we are today, and the 27 years we’ve been working on this problem, I think to myself that I was also sent here to solve problems.”

(If I told you I had a quote from "Tag" and it was about taxes, I'm thinking you would guess he was 'agin 'em.)

Admittedly, the bill is not exactly a "comprehensive transportation policy."  It focuses exclusively on funding, but more importantly, creates dedicated streams of funding for things like mass transportation and road construction. 

It is an unfortunate thing in Maryland that mass transportation is as controversial as it is.  We want those who have less to pay more, despite the indirect benefits single-occupancy-vehicles receive from 20 people riding the same bus.  Next time you are at a busy intersection or a round-about, particularly the one off Route 100 to Snowden River Parkway, imagine five of those people in one bus.  Next time you are riding the off-ramp on 395 into Baltimore, imagine 10 less cars in front of you.  How much would you pay for a system that reliably put people on buses to work or, even better, redirected them to rail?

The problem is, we have a regional mass transportation system.  The average Howard Countian posits a reasonable complaint that in order to ride mass transit, they need to drive, pay for parking, and pay to ride.  The average Howard Countian is not all that interested in subsidizing the Light Rail, which runs north to south in Baltimore City.  The average Howard Countian is fascinated to learn that Baltimore has an underground metro system.  ("Was that the episode of Homicide where the guy was twisted up between the car and the platform and they had to get his family before untwisting him?  That was wild.  Anyway, I thought that was in D.C. for some reason.")

Even more frustrating is that planners have been eye-balling this corridor, and its urban pockets, for rail transit since Columbia was built, hence our wide medians. 

But where we are now is far from our neighbors to the South.  Our roads are coming apart.  Our buses aren't efficient.  Our rail is too short.  And we don't have the money to do anything about it.

Without a comprehensive policy, our legislators will continue to pass piecemeal gas taxes, reallocate "protected" funds, and kick the rail-can down the road for another five years.  We all gnash our team about the federal bubble and what a sequester means for our local economy (things that our General Assembly can do very little about), but just as terrifying is that gas has been consistently over $3.50 a gallon for the past year or so and those of us who don't associate ourselves with Uncle Sam will have a much bigger problem if no one can afford to go to work.

That's all for today.  I had a great time ------ bartending on Saturday.  The fundraising crown went to Mickey Gomez for the second year in a row and I was happy to see her win it.  The entire party was abuzz with Laura Neuman, Todd Huff (as in "I'm just having water.  Did you see what happened to Todd Huff?"), and 2014 prognostications.  It's a great time for those of us who love this stuff...and a horrible time for our spouses.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!