Group says MTA funding cuts planned

Report foresees 22 percent decline for next five years


A leading local business group reported yesterday that capital funding for mass transit in the Baltimore region would decline sharply under a draft six-year transportation spending plan prepared by the Ehrlich administration.

The Greater Baltimore Committee analysis of the administration's plan was immediately denounced by Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan, who accused the authors of using "scare tactics" and distorting the meaning of his department's budget numbers.

The GBC study shows that while overall transportation funding would decline 7 percent from the previous plan, the Maryland Transit Administration would see a much steeper reduction - 22 percent - for the years 2006-2011. The MTA provides bus and rail service in the Baltimore area.

The analysis also said the state Department of Transportation has allocated $5 million to MTA maintenance in 2010, compared with $77 million last year. By contrast, the study said, the state expects to spend $514 million to maintain state roads in 2010.

"Failure to fund MTA maintenance translates directly into decreases in passenger comfort and service reliability," the report says. "Riders can expect buses and trains to break down more frequently; stations to be darker and dirtier; tools and equipment less available for maintenance staff; station and bus destination signs to be poorer; wheelchair lifts to be less reliable; and paving, landscaping, and lighting in parking lots to be in disrepair."

The report was issued by the GBC and prepared by its affiliate, the Baltimore Transit Alliance.

Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, chairwoman of the House committee that oversees transportation issues, described the funding plan as "terrible."

"This is a plan to have the wheels fall off the bus again and wonder why the public doesn't ride MTA," the Baltimore Democrat said. She was referring to a series of incidents late in the Glendening administration when wheels fell off MTA buses as a result of maintenance problems.

But Flanagan said any comparison of the MTA and the state highway maintenance budgets is "bogus." While he did not dispute that the $5 million figure appears in state documents, he argued that it has been a long-standing practice in transportation budgeting to understate the spending in far-off years and to increase the estimate as the year gets closer.

A comparison of the current draft with past Comprehensive Transportation Program summaries, however, shows that some of the Ehrlich administration's projections of MTA maintenance spending are far lower than during the Glendening administration.

Flanagan said some of the estimates in the draft budget were skewed because of delays in the passage of the federal funding reauthorization bill, which didn't get congressional approval until July. He said the draft doesn't include some federal money that will come to the state under that bill.

When asked whether the GBC's report of a 22 percent MTA reduction was accurate, Flanagan said "not necessarily. This is scare tactics. That does not really reflect well on the Greater Baltimore Committee," he said.

The GBC study is based on the draft budget proposals the Transportation Department has released in briefings for local officials around the state. It compares the spending priorities the state has outlined for the 2006-2011 period with those it adopted last year for 2005-2010.

As portrayed in the GBC report, the spending plan reflects a shift of transit resources away from Baltimore and toward the state's rural and suburban areas. The study found that the Baltimore region's share of transit funding would drop from 34 percent in the previous year's plan to 28 percent, with almost all of the difference being shifted to metropolitan Washington.

Flanagan denied any intent on the part of the Ehrlich administration to shortchange transit or metropolitan Baltimore. "We are emphasizing a balanced transportation program," he said.

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