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Drivers in Maryland pay an extra $425 per year on car repairs due to highways and bridges in disrepair.
A new report released today analyzes the transportation policies of state and federal governments and strongly criticizes politicians and policies that favor building new roadways while neglecting existing bridges and roads.
The report notes, however, that Maryland has been explicit about making preservation of the current transportation system a top priority, especially in using stimulus funds to “fix it first.” While the latest federal bridge inventory shows that 372 of Maryland’s bridges are structurally deficient – 7 percent of the state’s total – this is actually much better than the national average of 12 percent. Measured as a percent of the state’s total square footage of bridge deck area, 4 percent of its deck space is structurally deficient, less than half the national average of 9 percent. According to an analysis of the focus of recent spending of federal transportation dollars (2004-2008), only six other urban areas in the entire nation were spending more per square foot of structurally deficient bridge area than the Baltimore metro region.
A glaring exception to Maryland’s “fix-it-first” policies is the controversial Intercounty Connector project which the current administration inherited from its predecessors. The financial strain created by this misguided project makes it all the more important to conserve other highway funds for maintaining existing assets.
“This report calls into question our nation’s transportation priorities,” said Fielding Huseth. “It is a waste of scarce resources to continue spending billions on new highways while existing roadways need repair. It’s like adding a guest room on your home when the roof is leaking.”
Maryland Senators Catherine Pugh and David Harrington along with Delegate Steve Lafferty sponsored legislation that passed earlier this month to require state spending of transportation dollars to remain in line with the state’s transportation goals, which include “fix it first”/system preservation goals. Backed by dozens of groups including business, equity, environmental, faith and smart-growth interests, the “smarter transportation” law is poised to make Maryland a national leader in spending transportation dollars wisely.
"The bill determines which transportation projects would do the best job of promoting smart growth," said Senator David Harrington of Prince George's County. "Fixing our crumbling roads and bridges first is just plain smart - smart for safety, smart for our pocketbooks."
Senator Catherine Pugh of Baltimore added: "We need to prioritize fixing what we have before building new roads and highways. With our budget problems, every dollar needs to be spent wisely.”
"It is critical that we align transportation spending with our overall transportation, land use and environmental goals," noted Delegate Steve Lafferty of Baltimore County. "This legislation is a large step toward a more open and rational means for spending our precious transportation dollars."
“Maryland has taken major strides to establish strong fix-it-first policies that help ensure that no funds are wasted on new road and highway projects until we’ve cleared our backlog of needed repair,” said Huseth. "We commend Sens. Pugh and Harrington and Del. Lafferty for ensuring the public interest comes first when taxpayer dollars are allocated for transportation projects."
In most cases, the report places the blame on powerful special interests and perverse state and federal policies. It points out that, by and large, states generally award major new construction contracts to outside contractors, many of whom lobby for such projects. Routine maintenance and repairs, by contrast, tend to be performed by in-house staff who lack outside influence. Politicians can be susceptible to these pressures because they garner positive political attention from ribbon cuttings for new projects, and mainly hear complaints about closing roads for repair and maintenance, according to the report.
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