BALTIMORE – Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced Friday he will generate an additional $320 million a year for transportation through increases in user fees and surcharges.
Ehrlich’s plan combines revenues from increases in vehicle registrations, Motor Vehicle Administration fees and surcharges from drunken-driving and moving-violation convictions.
The administration’s plan also would claim $10 million from closing a corporate tax loophole and devote all of the state’s rental car tax, now at 5 percent of the bill and worth $32 million, to the Transportation Trust Fund. All told, transportation funding would hit $345 million for fiscal year 2005.
Ehrlich, with Transportation Secretary Robert Flanagan, announced the financing package in front of the I-695 and U.S. 40 interchange, built about 50 years ago to handle about 40,000 cars daily. It now sees about 226,000 vehicles a day.
The intersection, Ehrlich said, is an example of old roads that inadequately handle today’s traffic and endanger motorists. It’s scheduled for refurbishment beginning next year.
As Ehrlich spoke, cars whizzed by on the nearby overpass. Those who drove to the event experienced firsthand the dangers of merging into a lane of I-695 off-ramp traffic, a maneuver necessary to get to the State Highway Administration facility where the governor spoke.
In the next six years, Ehrlich said, Maryland will invest $13 billion to improve transportation and safety. That figure includes the $1.7 billion cost to build the Inter-county Connector that would link Interstates 95 and 270.
The capital transportation program for fiscal years 2005 to 2010, funded by the Transportation Trust Fund, would total about $11.5 billion. The Maryland Transportation Authority would build $1.6 billion in projects in the same span.
Ehrlich earlier pledged $25 million in his budget to begin repaying $300 million he borrowed last year from the Transportation Trust Fund to balance the budget.
“Our goal is to develop a transportation network that works for the people of Maryland,” Ehrlich said.
In 2003, The Hellmann Commission identified $17 billion in road and transit needs as part of its charge to investigate transportation issues, and recommended increasing Maryland’s capital investment by $300 million annually to start covering those needs.
The governor also took the opportunity to rebuff some Democratic legislators’ demands to raise the state’s gas tax.
The global fuel market is uncertain, Ehrlich said, and the state’s current tax — 23.5 cents per gallon — is already among the country’s highest.
Maryland’s gas tax tied for 17th in the nation according to an October 2003 comparison from Nebraska.
Flanagan and the governor took to task legislators who criticize the transportation initiative but often request funding for road projects in their districts.
Ehrlich dismissed criticism of his plan to fund roads and increase highway safety as “talking points.”
Delegate Peter Franchot, D-Montgomery, chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and the Environment, called Ehrlich’s plans to fund transportation project “irresponsible and inadequate.”
A staunch supporter of a gas tax hike, Franchot said the governor refused to provide leadership on important issues.
“The governor has bobbed and weaved on the transportation issue for 10 months and unfortunately … has retreated into an anti-tax bunker,” he said in a written statement.
John White, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the governor is taking the right steps to solve Maryland’s road woes.
“It’s good to see that he’s starting out by addressing an area like highway safety,” White said, “which is a great need.”