House Ways and Means, Appropriations, and Economic Matters Committees and Senate Budget and Tax Committee
Joint Hearing Room, Legislative Services Building, Annapolis
Tuesday, October 18, 2011 – 1:00 p.m.
Good afternoon, I am Isiah Leggett, the Montgomery County Executive.
I thank you for the opportunity to talk about the transportation infrastructure needs in Montgomery County – and, in my view, a desperate needs for new transportation revenues which I have advocated for since I have been in elected office.
The Legislature decided against an increase in the gas tax when it was last discussed in 2007. Other revenues were raised instead, and, not long thereafter, a near world financial collapse sunk us into a deep recession that resulted in huge losses to the Transportation Trust Fund – and the near elimination of highway user revenues.
This had a devastating effect. In fact, in 2007, the Washington region ranked second behind Los Angeles as having the worst traffic congestion in the nation. Four years later, we now have the dubious distinction of being number one.
What does being number one entitle you to? It means wasting 70 hours per year in traffic and wasting 57 gallons of fuel per year while idling in first gear.
This is our reality. And this is true despite the fact that, with the exception of the New York region, we have the second highest percentage of commuters who use transit or carpool on a daily basis.
We can’t solve these problems overnight and we certainly can’t solve them by “going it alone.” Developing and maintaining transportation infrastructure is a partnership – and Montgomery County is doing its part. For example, on an annual basis we operate a bus system that carries 90,000 passengers every week day at a cost to the County in excess of $100 million a year. In addition, our list of transportation priorities that we updated last year reflects a County investment of nearly $300 million on State transportation projects.
Why are we doing this? We simply have no choice. And, it’s not without consequences when it comes to allocating funds for other County services that also require significant local investment, including our schools.
Our County prides itself on having a strong Master Planning process requiring a balance between approved land uses and the provision of transportation network and other services. More than a third of the County is dedicated and preserved for agriculture and parks. Thus we have transportation needs characteristic of rural, suburban, and urban areas.
These needs are daunting. The last transportation priorities letter we sent to our State Delegation identified a backlog for the design and construction of State road projects in excess of $1.1 billion. If we include in an estimate the funding needed for projects of regional significance like the widening of I-270, the Corridor Cities Transitway, and the Purple Line, the number approaches $4 billion.
And, like Anne Arundel and Harford Counties, we were blessed with BRAC, which consolidated Walter Reed in D.C. at Bethesda Naval Medical Center, thereby doubling the patient load in an area where traffic is already stopped dead every day of the week. Again, the County has had to invest its own funds to help negate some of the fallout.
I know what many of you may be thinking – that there isn’t a revenue increase large enough to address all of these needs in Montgomery, the Washington region, the City, and our rural areas. I understand that.
But there is a harsh reality awaiting us if we are unwilling to do what is necessary to begin to invest in our transportation infrastructure.
We can plan on jobs and economic development shifting to adjacent states, where several mega-projects are under way. And, the lack of increased mobility will not only deter corporations from coming to Maryland, existing companies will be looking to move out.
I urge the Administration and the General Assembly to get behind a plan to begin to address these needs in a meaningful way come January. Our economic future depends on it.