By Megan Poinski
If Congress does not reauthorize federal highway funding and the federal gas tax — both set to expire at the end of the month — Maryland will lose millions of dollars, hundreds of jobs and needed upkeep on the state’s roads and bridges.
“This would really hurt,” Caitlin Hughes Rayman, Maryland Department of Transportation’s assistant secretary for transportation policy and freight, told members of the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Federal Relations on Wednesday.
Partisan bickering and the lack of funding has kept Congress from either passing a new highway funding bill or reauthorizing the existing one, Rayman said. By an unhappy coincidence, both the funding bill and the gas tax expire on the same day. And what will happen next is up in the air.
Jack Basso, chief operating officer of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said that $110 million would be lost each day without the gas tax.
Rayman said Maryland would lose $45 million to $65 million in federal funds per month, which would impact 700 direct and indirect jobs.
Even if road funding and the gasoline tax are reauthorized, Rayman said it is highly likely that funds will be cut. Congress has been focused on cutting spending and eliminating earmarks. While just a few years ago the state could expect a little more federal money when it planned for the next year, she said that a new comprehensive bill could cut funding by a third.
That proposal, which is floating around the House of Representatives, would in turn force the state to defer or cut more than $170 million in projects each year. This would impact about 1,800 direct or indirect jobs.
The Department of Transportation is trying to prepare for several financial possibilities. Rayman said that safety of motorists is the department’s priority, but it is difficult to make these sorts of contingency plans. The state does not want to spend money on a long-term project that would lock them into finishing if funds become severely diminished, she said.
“Without new revenue from the federal government, as a state, we are way behind on our needs,” said Del. Kirill Reznik, D-Montgomery County.
Basso told the committee that the nation is at a crucial point with its highway infrastructure, and the choices that are made now will have lasting effects.
While there is talk in Washington about cutting transportation funds, Basso and Rayman both said the state’s infrastructure needs are increasing.
“We are underfunding transportation by about 60%,” Basso said. Over the next six years, he continued, this will add up to about $400 billion.
During the last General Assembly session, state legislators discussed several ideas to increase transportation funding, but passed no legislation. Some of these bills included constitutionally protecting money in the Transportation Trust Fund, indexing state gas taxes to construction costs and leasing highway naming rights.