WASHINGTON – Maryland’s urban roadways are in bad shape and in dire need of repair, according to separate studies done by two transportation groups.
But while they agree that work needs to be done, The Road Information Project (TRIP) and the Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP) disagree on just how to do it.
“Repairs have not been made and traffic continues to increase,” said Bill Outlaw, a TRIP spokesman. “Increased traffic puts more of a demand on roads that are already in bad shape.”
TRIP, which is funded by the highway construction industry, used Federal Highway Administration data to rate 850,000 miles of U.S. roads. It said 38 percent of Baltimore’s roads and 39 percent of Washington-area roads are in “poor” or “mediocre” condition.
But shortly after the TRIP study was released last month, a study by STPP said that road repair funds are being diverted to building new roads. The group wants that trend reversed, in favor of upkeep on current roads and new spending on public transit.
“Building new roads are so expensive, and only increases traffic. That money should go to making repairs,” said Barbara McCann, an STPP spokeswoman and co-author of the study. STPP is a non-profit that describes itself as dedicated to energy-efficient and environmentally friendly transit.
Her study acknowledged that the federal government budgeted $16 billion for road repairs in 1999 and only $9 billion for new road construction that same year. But it said that growth in the repair budget has slowed in recent years while the new-roads budget has jumped — up from $5.8 billion in 1998, for example.
A spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration said she had not seen the TRIP study but she disputed STPP’s findings, and said road repair work is a state priority.
“We support road repair because it fits in with Smart Growth,” said Sandra Dobson, the spokeswoman. She said the state spent $393.6 million on road repair in 1999, “more than in any other year.”
While Outlaw said he agrees with STPP that more money should go to road repair, he said it should not come at the expense of new road construction. He criticized the study for not taking in the whole picture.
“Both new roads and transit are important,” Outlaw said, “It shouldn’t be a roads vs. transit approach.”
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials also criticized STPP’s findings as shortsighted. Because the study concentrated only on federal dollars, which constitute about 25 percent of transportation spending, a spokeswoman said the majority of money is not being evaluated.
“They’re only looking at a quarter of the total picture,” said Sunny Mays Schust, the spokeswoman. “Decisions are made at the state and local level according to community wishes.”
But McCann responded that state data is difficult to collect and that spending usually follows federal practices.
“Federal transit spending sets the example [for states],” she said. “There are striking similarities between the two.”
While they may disagree on some things, all three organizations agree that a Senate proposal to relieve high gas prices by suspending a federal gas tax is shortsighted.
Outlaw said that consumers will not see a big difference at the pump if the tax is cut and that the tax itself is not even the issue.
“The problem is with OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) oil prices, not taxes” Outlaw said. “The price at the pump could still increase.”
AASHTO estimates that if the 4.3-cent per gallon federal gas tax were eliminated, Maryland would lose $304.7 million in transportation funding in 2002 and 2003.
“Cutting the gas tax would take away a quarter of highway funding,” Schust said. “And it’s really questionable whether that savings would be passed on to consumers.”