BERLIN — With the dualization of Route 113 still incomplete and highway user funds that should have been dedicated to roadway improvements diverted to other general fund uses, most lower shore lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors of legislation aimed at preventing further raids on the state’s Transportation Trust Fund.
The fund was set up years ago to collect highway user fees and dedicate the revenue to the roadway improvement projects across the state. In a perfect world, the highway user fees would be spent on highway projects in the jurisdictions from which they were collected. In recent years, however, with the economy sagging, state lawmakers have continually raided the fund and diverted the funds to other projects and programs.
To that end, legislation has been introduced in the General Assembly that would, if approved, prohibit raiding the TTF and ensure the funds are used only for highway improvement projects. Among the sponsors of the bill in the Senate is Senator Jim Mathias, while Delegate Mike McDermott is a co-sponsor on the cross-filed House bill.
“The truth is, at least they’re now confessing how they’ve raided it to the point it is no longer sustainable,” McDermott said. “It’s now come down to just trying to maintain what we have without funding any new projects. There have been hundreds of millions of dollars diverted from the Transportation Trust Fund over the last few years to fill holes in the general fund.”
McDermott said a small amount of the highway user fees are returned to the jurisdictions from which they were collected, particularly on the Eastern Shore.
“Places like Ocean City and Worcester County have lost about 90 percent of their highway user funds in recent years,” he said. “They’ve said it has been restored, but where is the money? They’re now bonding highway projects that used to be paid for out of the Transportation Trust Fund.”
The lower shore Delegate referenced the recent efforts to get a traffic signal at the deadly intersection of Routes 113 and 12, and the overall pace of the dualization of Route 113 in general.
“Why are we begging for a traffic light when, in a moment’s time, they spend millions of dollars on highway projects over here?” he said. “We have a highway that’s 45 miles long that’s still two lanes after two decades of working on it. If they only did one mile a year, it would have been done 12 years ago.”