WASHINGTON – Nearly half of Maryland’s major urban roads are “poor” or “mediocre” as well as congested, according to a report card on the nation’s infrastructure scheduled for release Wednesday.
The report by the American Society of Civil Engineers said Maryland’s top three concerns are roads, schools and mass transit, but it also said the state faces massive need for funding in drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.
The 2005 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure dropped the overall grade for the nation from a “D+” in 2001, the last time the report card came out, to a “D” this year. The report said that all levels of government and the private sector collectively need to invest $1.6 trillion over the next five years for the nation’s “crumbling infrastructure.”
The society bases its report on studies from government and private organizations. The rating of Maryland roads, for example, came from studies done by TRIP, a nonprofit organization that advocates less traffic congestion.
But ASCE Treasurer David Mongan said that, while Maryland’s roads are congested, he does not think that 45 percent of the state’s roads are in “poor or mediocre condition,” as TRIP and his own society claim.
“It’s painfully obvious that congestion throughout the metropolitan area and throughout the state is continuing to increase,” said Mongan, the president of Whitney, Bailey, Cox & Magnani, an architectural and engineering firm in Towson.
While there is a need to upgrade capacity and safety on Maryland roads, he said, the state has done “a good job” overall of paving roads, filling in potholes and paying attention to drainage, Mongan said. That holds for state, county and municipally maintained roads, he said.
Congestion in the Baltimore area cost the average commuter there an extra $866 in lost time and excess fuel, while Washington-area congestion cost $1,212 per year per commuter in that region, the report said.
Faltering highway and transportation infrastructure “delay the delivery of goods, adding to the price of those goods,” Mongan said. He said the solution is a balanced transportation program that increases mass transit usage and availability while adding new highways such as the Intercounty Connector and widening existing roads.
But environmental and smart-growth groups said funding should go to mass transit, not to build more roads.
“We emphasize less road-building and less damage to the environment,” said Colin Peppard, transportation policy coordinator for the Washington-based Friends of the Earth.
He said the ICC will have a minimal impact on improving transportation and a negative impact on the environment. And funding the ICC for 15 to 20 years may “eat up a significant amount of the state’s future dollars” for other transportation programs such as financing the proposed Metro Purple Line from Bethesda to New Carrollton, he said.
A representative of the Coalition for Smarter Growth in the District agreed, adding that Maryland residents need more options to take transit, walk or bike.
“It isn’t the big new highways that will solve the problem,” said Laura Olsen, assistant director of the coalition. “Most will create more traffic, not less.”
The report card also said that Maryland has $4.78 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs, and that over the next 20 years the state will need $1.7 billion for drinking water projects.
The state Department of the Environment did not challenge those figures.
“There’s a significant gap with what’s needed and the funding that’s available,” said department spokeswoman Julie Oberg. “We’re doing as much as we can. Clearly more can be done with additional funding.”
Mongan also said school facilities in the state have not been adequately addressed.
The report said 67 percent of Maryland schools have at least one “inadequate building feature,” which Mongan said may include leaking roofs and handicap inaccessibility. Another 65 percent have at least one “unsatisfactory environmental feature,” such as the quality of drinking water or lead paint issues, he said.
“Unfortunately, there has been little progress” on school infrastructure, Mongan said. “We are not spending enough money to get ahead of the problem.”
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