At the behest of Gov. O’Malley, the Maryland Transit Administration has drawn up plans to increase MARC train service throughout the state. The plan, announced in the Post and the Baltimore Sun, would increase passenger capacity on MARC’s three lines. Here in town, the Camden Line (right) is slated for only a few upgrades, including longer trains, more trains, weekend service, and extensions to Northern Virginia and Bayview (near Johns Hopkins in Baltimore). The MTA has even bigger plans for the parallel Penn Line, which is the more-popular and electrified line connecting Union Station and Baltimore via New Carrollton, BWI, Odenton. The state envisions that line becoming more “transit-like” with more trains, longer trains, late evening service, express trains, and better connectivity with the Baltimore Subway.
Though the cost of these enhancements is estimated to run into the billions, there is no word yet on how the state intends to finance the expansion. Add these expenses on top of the state’s expected $1.7 billion budget gap and the $40 million in unfunded transportation projects and the task looks even more challenging.
Last week we noted the conspicuous absence of a gas tax increase in Gov. O’Malley’s latest tax plan. However, today the Sun is reporting that O’Malley is proposing a separate plan to index the gas tax to the inflation in the cost of highway construction materials such as concrete and steel. At the current rate of inflation, that would amount to an annual increase of about $0.008 per gallon.
Maryland’s GOP caucus in Annapolis opposes the increase on the grounds that gas taxes should only fund road projects and not transit. The Sun explains:
Half of the transportation trust fund goes toward mass transit, which is of little benefit in the rural communities that most Republicans represent, [Senate minority leader] Brinkley said. Creating a dedicated funding source for mass transit, paid for by the communities that use it, would free up enough money at the current gas tax rate to maintain and expand the road system, Brinkley said.
Though Mr. Brinkley’s concerns of transfer payments are valid, one should note that expanded transit service reduces the burden on the roads and is thus similar in effect to an increase in highway lane miles. Furthermore, to peg the gas tax as a wealth-transfer scheme from rural to suburban and urban areas is absurd: the wealthier, traffic-clogged suburban counties (Montgomery, P.G., Howard, Baltimore) are the communities providing the tax subsidy to fund projects that rural Maryland counties cannot afford by themselves.