ANNAPOLIS – A new regional transportation authority is one of the top priorities for House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, for the General Assembly session that opens next month, he told Montgomery County lawmakers Wednesday.
The traffic problems are so bad, joked Taylor, that he had to come down to a Bethesda hotel the night before in order to make it to the legislative breakfast on time.
“You think you’re in gridlock now? Add 1.5 million people to the same acreage that we have,” said Taylor.
The Washington region is No. 2 in a list of the nation’s most congested urban areas, behind Los Angeles, according to a 1998 study by the Texas Transportation Institute.
It was obvious by their applause that the Montgomery County delegation supported Taylor’s priority for improving transportation.
The regional transportation authority Taylor envisions would give power to some of the best-thinking leaders from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia to solve some of the area’s most pressing transportation problems, including the future of BWI, Dulles and Reagan National airports.
But the specifics, including this authority’s relationship with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, are unclear.
“What we need to do is get the right people to the table and design how we want to create this authority,” said Taylor.
Taylor also proposed the Legislature find a new revenue source and dedicate it to future transportation projects.
“The first thing you have to do is separate highway funding from mass transit funding,” Taylor said, suggesting that a more “universal base,” like the state sales tax, be used rather than current gas and excise taxes.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan has been fighting for an inter-county connector to ease transportation congestion problems in spite of Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s decision last year to cancel it.
The inter-county connector would provide an east-west arterial between I- 270 in Montgomery County and I-95 in Prince George’s County.
But while Duncan and other Montgomery County lawmakers are putting their efforts into proposals other than the ICC, including studies into other possible solutions to reduce congestion, Duncan spokesman David Weaver said Duncan will continue to push for the ICC.
Taylor said he agreed with Duncan that Glendening has not done all he can to improve transportation in Maryland.
“In the Glendening-Townsend administration that we’re living in today, there has been tremendous leadership shown in various fields,” said Taylor. “In transportation, I’m not sure the grade’s very high.”
Taylor’s other priorities include developing high technology research parks near post-secondary schools, creating a tourism department, cleaning up an outdated and polluting sewer system, and providing health insurance to the poor.
“Your delegation is continually successful in bringing home the bacon,” said Taylor at the breakfast sponsored by the Committee for Montgomery. But the role the Montgomery County delegation plays in giving legislators from all over the state input into defining the best statewide policies is also important, said Taylor.