Traffic congestion costs the Baltimore-Washington region more than $3 billion a year, according to a study released yesterday by the Texas Transportation Institute.
The study was commissioned by the Greater Baltimore Committee, the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. All three influential business groups have been urging state lawmakers to spend more money on transportation infrastructure, arguing that gridlock hurts businesses and degrades quality of life.
Donald C. Fry, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said the report confirms what the business leaders knew: Transportation funding is the state's biggest obstacle to economic growth.
"It brings together all three major business organizations saying, `There's a business case justifying a significant investment in transportation,'" Fry said. "Not only are there good business reasons to do it, but good economic reasons and good quality-of-life reasons."
Yesterday's findings prompted the three groups to renew their push for more transportation money, calling for the state's Transportation Trust Fund to be increased by at least $600 million a year. They suggest raising that money with an increase in the state's gasoline tax and say money in the trust fund should not be used for purposes unrelated to transportation.
Gov. Martin O'Malley has been looking at ways to shore up transportation funding. Last month, he discussed tying the gas tax to construction inflation costs, which would generate about $63 million. But Fry said the state would just be "treading water" under that proposal and would need 10 times that amount to address the backlog of planned projects.
The Baltimore-Washington area consistently ranks as one of the most congested in the nation. The new study estimated that in the Baltimore area, residents spent 60 million hours a year sitting in traffic. For regular commuters, that is about 40 hours a year.
Since 1982, the number of peak-period travelers has increased 71 percent, and daily vehicle miles traveled have increased 135 percent. Meanwhile, the number of lane miles on highways and main streets has gone up by 35 percent.
Gilchrest gets new GOP rival
The race to oust Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest got more crowded yesterday when a former Ehrlich appointee signed up for the race.
Robert Joseph Banks, who worked for the state Department of Transportation under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and was appointed by him to a short term as an Orphans' Court judge, became the fifth Republican candidate in Maryland's 1st District. The district includes the Eastern Shore and parts of Anne Arundel, Harford and Baltimore counties.
Banks, 38, of Baltimore County does not live in the district but grew up in Earleville in Cecil County and says he thinks of himself as an Eastern Shore resident. Congressional candidates are required to live in the state they represent, but not the district.
Banks said he once volunteered for Gilchrest and generally likes him, but that the district needs a change from the nine-term incumbent.
"I think it's time for a fresh perspective, an independent thinker," Banks said yesterday.
Banks said he represents a middle-ground alternative to the two main candidates in the Feb. 12 Republican primary, Gilchrest and conservative state Sen. Andrew P. Harris.
Though Banks was an Ehrlich appointee, Harris has the former governor's support. Ehrlich is scheduled to host a fundraiser for Harris this week.
The Democrats seeking the seat are attorneys Frank Kratovil and Christopher Robinson.
Girl gets 18 months for robberies
A 17-year-old girl was sentenced to 18 months in jail yesterday for helping lead a rash of armed robberies.
A judge found Tia J. Moore guilty in July of two counts of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and one count of attempted armed robbery. She and four other young people took part in the 90-minute crime spree, targeting a fast-food restaurant, a pizza deliveryman and an ice cream shop where two of their Frederick High School classmates worked.
In court yesterday, Assistant State's Attorney Teresa R. Bean asked for a prison sentence of four to 16 years, according to state sentencing guidelines. Instead, Frederick County Circuit Judge Julie Stevenson Solt sentenced Moore to 18 months in the county jail and suspended 14 1/2 years of prison time.
State's Attorney J. Charles Smith said a harsher sentence would have sent a stronger message.
"We just felt like people who are committing the more violent offenses here in Frederick, regardless of their age, need to serve more time," Smith said.
Defense attorney William Poffenbarger didn't immediately return a telephone call seeking comment on the sentence. He said in August that the weapon used was a BB gun. No weapon has been recovered.
The four other defendants are male, and three were juveniles when the robberies were committed. in January.