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Ruppersberger: Our Communities Need Funding

Planes, trains, automobiles and traffic — we have it all in Maryland’s 2nd Congressional district. The district is in the heart of the state and is home to some of Maryland’s biggest economic engines — the Port of Baltimore, Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Fort Meade and the National Security Agency, the largest employer in Maryland. It also includes neighborhoods in Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties, and the city of Baltimore.

The 2nd district is home to 665,000 people, my constituents. All of these people need to safely get to work, drop their children off at school, go grocery shopping or conduct other daily activities. The Maryland, District of Columbia and Virginia region has the second worst traffic in the country, according to the Texas Transportation Institute. The average driver spends 62 hours a year stuck in traffic wasting valuable time and money. Improving our local infrastructure and transportation systems is not glamorous, but it is necessary to get people moving, keep commerce flowing and jump-start Maryland’s economy. Our infrastructure must grow and change as our population and our needs grow and change.

An estimated 60,000 new jobs are coming to Maryland through the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission decision. With the majority of these positions heading to Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade, and a potential for thousands more workers with the creation of the country’s new Cyber Command at Fort Meade, it is even more important that we get it right in Maryland. We must make sure we provide the necessary resources to upgrade and expand Maryland’s infrastructure. These high-quality jobs are a boon for Maryland’s economy, but we must also make sure we protect the great quality of life that we enjoy here in the “Land of Pleasant Living,” while also preparing for these new residents.

I believe we need a balanced approach. We must expand our roads, highways and bridges, and improve our mass transit options while also protecting the environment. We must make mass transit convenient and affordable for commuters or else they won’t use it. We must have dependable trains and buses that deliver workers directly to the job centers.

We must also ensure that cargo can safely and efficiently be transported from BWI airport and the Port of Baltimore to locations across the state and country. These transportation epicenters support more than 100,000 jobs in Maryland and generate more than $5 billion in salary income and business revenue each year.

I serve on the Appropriations and Intelligence committees. This provides me with a unique vantage point. I understand the basic need to fund these important projects while also keeping our country safe. I am also a commuter. I frequently drive from my home in northern Baltimore County to Washington, D.C., when Congress is in session. My route takes me through Baltimore and D.C. traffic, often during rush hour. My more than 60-mile commute should take a little more than an hour, but with traffic it can take two hours or more.

In addition, I come from local government. I was the Baltimore County executive for eight years before coming to Congress. I often say, “In local government, that’s where the rubber meets the road” — and it does. I know how decisions in Washington affect the locals back home. I know we can’t have it all. We must prioritize our needs. Every year, I sit down with officials from every jurisdiction in my district to come up with a priority list for our transportation needs. We work together to determine which projects have the greatest economic impact, relieve the most congestion or help the greatest number of residents.

Before we secure funding, we need a road map — literally. Our road map is the transportation reauthorization bill, but it has stalled in the Senate and the House. The current extension of the program expires at the end of this year. The transportation reauthorization legislation establishes broad funding levels and authorizes particular projects. It gives the states a six-year plan of which projects will get the green light so they can hire design teams, acquire bids and conduct other necessary tasks to get this work on track. These projects drive Maryland’s economy by keeping people working. It allows businesses to buy supplies and families to buy food, clothing and other necessities.

Without a transportation reauthorization, these projects are in a holding pattern. No new projects are making their way through the pipeline, and potential jobs could be squandered. I applaud Chairman James Oberstar’s (D-Minn.) hard work on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. I urge House leadership to bring this important bill to the House floor for a vote. We must do this to keep Maryland and the rest of the country moving.

In Congress, we have several ways that we fund these important projects — appropriations bills, supplemental spending measures and other important pieces of legislation. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included $431 million for transportation needs in Maryland. Not only did this money give thousands of formerly stalled projects the go-ahead, thousands of workers kept their jobs while working to build new roads, replace outdated bridges, maintain railroad tracks, expand bus lines and fulfill other vital needs. It also saved or created thousands of jobs. A study conducted for the Associated General Contractors of America found that every billion dollars invested in infrastructure projects created or sustained an estimated 28,500 jobs.

Through my work with the Appropriations Committee, I have helped secure an additional $37 million for dozens of transportation projects — everything from updating intersections around Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground to replacing aging buses and rail cars. These funds are a decent down payment for what we need, and I pledge to continue to push for Maryland’s fair share of federal dollars.

After a very busy spring filled with health care, jobs bills and hearings for appropriations legislation, the Appropriations Committee is in the process of pulling together the individual bills including transportation reauthorization. We have a lot of work ahead of us and some very important decisions will need to be made. I know this is an election year, but I urge the Appropriations Committee, both Republicans and Democrats, to come together for the good of our country and our constituents to move these appropriations bills quickly.

We need to pass these bills or we run the risk of veering off course. Maryland’s transportation needs are growing and changing. Our infrastructure must grow and change with it. Maryland residents and my constituents deserve nothing less.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) is a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.

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