In a Washington Post op-ed Friday, two Maryland General Assembly members note that our state leads the nation in traffic congestion, highlighting traffic problems in the Washington suburbs and Baltimore metro area.
The cost of such congestion isn’t just frustration, either: A Greater Baltimore Committee report several years ago calculated that traffic congestion costs Maryland $3.1 billion per year in lost work hours and fuel. (Not surprisingly, almost 75 percent of Marylander’s report that they drive to work alone.)
But what to do?
State Sen. Jim Rosapepe and Del. Brian Feldman, representing Prince George’s County and Montgomery County, respectively, have proposed an “End the Gridlock” amendment.
Rosapepe and Feldman’s amendment would authorize “the governor and legislature to draw up a specific plan for major public investment in roads, bridges and transit.” That plan would then be presented to voters for approval at the ballot box.
According to the elected officials, increased fuel efficiency, the Great Recession, fluctuating oil prices and a failure to raise the state gasoline tax, “has blown a big hole in Maryland’s transportation trust fund.”
More information on the proposed amendment can be found at www.endthegridlockinmd.com. The bottom line is that for the amendment to get on the ballot this November, it needs to be passed in the General Assembly’s upcoming special session — called to address the expansion of gambling — beginning later this week.
“This special session should fight gridlock, not just expand gambling. We see no reason to wait until 2013,” Rosapepe and Feldman wrote in a letter to Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Rosapepe and Feldman believe that whether the governor and legislature eventually raise revenue for a transportation plan without a referendum — Maryland’s traditional approach — adopting the “End the Gridlock” amendment would give the state another tool to reduce congestion.
“Such an approach would be new in Maryland, but it is common in other states and regions,” Rosapepe and Feldman write. “In the past three years, 74 referendums for transportation programs have been approved by voters in 18 states.”
However, while there’s no doubt many Maryland roads and bridges need repair, a recent University of Toronto study found that building and widening roads does not decrease traffic congestion. Think of line from the film Field of Dreams, "If you build it, he will come." Researchers say more roads in already dense areas only attract more cars.
Instead, several cities, like London and Stockholm, have adopted "congestion pricing” — automated tolls on cars driving into center city — to reduce congestion.
It’s an idea New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has also pitched several times.
Still, it’s hard-to-impossible to imagine Maryland passing a measure like congestion pricing any time soon to deal with Baltimore or Washington, D.C. traffic.