By Barry Rascovar / The Community Times / April 3, 2013
No one likes it, which is why Marylanders haven’t seen a gas-tax increase in over 20 years. That’s about to change.
With final passage last Friday of a transportation revenue bill, state legislators set in motion a four-cent jump in gasoline prices come July. This will be followed by increases in later years so that by 2016 we’ll be paying 13 cents to 20 cents more per gallon.”
We’ve gotten used to sudden leaps in fuel prices. Those increases, though, fattened profits for Big Oil companies and OPEC nations. At least this time the money will stay in Maryland.
The revenue raised – $4.4 billion over six years – will revive the state’s depleted transportation construction program. That means more dollars for interstate improvements, bridge repairs and the Red Line mass-transit extension from Woodlawn to Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
This $2 billion rapid rail line will be the linchpin of Baltimore’s disorganized rapid rail system. The Red Line will give county residents on the west side – Randallstown homeowners take note – a quick, hassle-free way to travel into the city for business and pleasure.
Dundalk and Essex residents, meanwhile, will have a short drive to the Bayview rail terminus for downtown or westside commutes.
The big bonus is that this east-west transit line will tie together both the Light Rail Line and the existing Owings Mills-to-Johns Hopkins Medical Center Metro.
This means Owings Mills and Pikesville residents can commute by rail to their jobs at Social Security headquarters in Woodlawn or to the nearby Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It means city residents can hop on the Red Line, transfer to the Light Rail Line and wind up at work in Hunt Valley.
It means much easier travel options to Orioles and Ravens games, entertainment venues and downtown dining spots.
Without the gas-tax increase, none of this is possible. Maryland politicians consistently ran away from a gas-tax vote. This is the first time in two decades there has been enough support to pay for transportation improvements.
What made the difference?
Time was running out to prove to federal officials that Maryland would put up its share of the money to build the Red Line and the Purple Line in the Washington suburbs. Without a commitment this year, both projects would have been shelved.
Legislators also weren’t about to vote to raise the gas tax in 2014, an election year. So this was Gov. Martin O’Malley’s last chance to solve the state’s worsening transportation situation before leaving office.
The price of progress is never easy to accept when it’s coming out of your own pocket. For now, this move is quite unpopular. The good news is that the benefits will become obvious in coming years.
Barry Rascovar is a writer and communications consultant living in Reisterstown. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.