I’m proud to represent Maryland, which is often called America in Miniature because of our geographic and demographic diversity.
That nickname also holds true with respect to the variety of our infrastructure. Our state is home to an array of roads, heavy rail, light rail and ports — all of which impact every aspect of life and business. And from George Washington’s efforts to expand canals to Dwight Eisenhower’s creation of the interstate highway system, the federal government has played a critical role in developing and maintaining this public good.
We have secured some important wins in the last few years to repair and bolster this critical backbone of our state — but with the American Society of Civil Engineers giving America’s infrastructure a grade of D+, we have a lot of work to do.
When we consider infrastructure, the first thing most people think of is roads. Every day, thousands of Marylanders take them to school, to work, to visit family and friends. And, according to that same report, the damage done to cars from roads in disrepair costs drivers, on average, hundreds of dollars per year.
One of the most egregious examples of late was the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Earlier this year, the potholes on the parkway had gotten so bad that the National Park Service (NPS), which owns a portion of the road, significantly lowered the speed limit because of the terrible conditions. Marylanders were understandably upset about the situation, and I went to NPS and urged them to take immediate steps to improve the conditions. We were able to get NPS to take emergency action to fill the potholes and repave the road.
But emergency repairs aren’t enough. We need to make serious investments in this road, which connects business and commerce to the people of our state. That’s why I secured a $75 million increase in a program that can be used to support BW Parkway repairs as part of an overall highway funding bill that will be used to repair similar roads in our state and across the country. That legislation unanimously passed the Senate Appropriations Committee. Next stop is full Senate action.
Of course, driving is not the only way to move around Maryland. Efficient public transportation and safe biking and pedestrian right-of-ways are a vital part of our state’s transportation network — and are central to reducing traffic and lowering smog and carbon emissions. Every time we consider ways to reduce congestion and move people and goods more efficiently, we must consider the multiple ways people commute and the benefits that can come from investments in rail, buses, sidewalks and bike lanes. In this area, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is a critical piece of our transportation system.
In 2008, I worked with a bipartisan group of members from the region to pass legislation to create an annual federal contribution of $150 million for WMATA’s capital funding, and I have worked in subsequent years, including on the Senate Appropriations Committee, to ensure that the federal government meets its commitment. I am also working with Senator Cardin and our Virginia colleagues on new legislation to renew the federal contribution to Metro for the next decade, provide critical safety reforms and strengthen oversight.
Another Maryland transit project, the Purple Line, which will connect the two arms of the Red Line and the Green and Orange lines, is being financed through an innovative public-private partnership (PPP) that includes federal, state, and private dollars. Both WMATA and the Purple Line help connect area riders throughout our region to work, home, shopping and recreation while reducing road congestion and air pollution.
Finally, while it may not immediately come to mind as critical everyday infrastructure, Maryland is home to a series of ports that are essential to our economic success. The largest is the Port of Baltimore, which generates over 139,180 jobs and billions of dollars in personal, business and tax revenue. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I’ve worked to secure tens of millions in funding for the Port — from necessary dredging that allows large ships to pass through, to environmental improvements that protect our health while allowing the Port to thrive, to widening the Howard Street Tunnel to allow double-stack freight trains to move goods to and from the Port.
Modernizing our infrastructure is necessary to keep Maryland moving — and these investments boost our economy, create jobs, protect our environment, improve our quality of life and keep us safe. We continue to make these investments with vigorous oversight to ensure that taxpayer funds are put to good use. Working together, we must keep fighting until Maryland and our country gets a much higher grade for the condition of our infrastructure. Our future success depends on it.
• Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, has served in the United States Senate since January 2017. He is a member of the Senate Appropriations and Environment and Public Works Committees.