Over the last decade, differing approaches to transportation policies have fueled a number of partisan political fires in Maryland, from the death of the Red Line and the infamous “Scorecard Bill” drama to the gas tax increase and local governments’ perennial battle to restore highway user revenues.
In an exposé published by The New York Times, Pulitzer Prize winner Hiroko Tabuchi reports on the libertarian/conservative political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, and their efforts to fight fixed rail transit projects in local jurisdictions throughout the country.
The organization argues against the expenditure of taxpayer dollars on transit infrastructure. The article acknowledges a correlation between the organization’s libertarian principles and anti-transit position:
Public transit, Americans for Prosperity says, goes against the liberties that Americans hold dear. “If someone has the freedom to go where they want, do what they want,” Ms. [Tori Venable, Tennessee state director for Americans for Prosperity] said, “they’re not going to choose public transit.”
However, the article also points out that the organization receives its funding from the Koch Brothers – who have received much of their wealth from oil and gas, asphalt, and even seatbelts and tires.
The Kochs’ opposition to transit spending stems from their longstanding free-market, libertarian philosophy. It also dovetails with their financial interests, which benefit from automobiles and highways.
The organization’s Maryland chapter advocated against the gas tax increase in 2013, arguing that it would put jobs at risk. Much of those gas tax revenues are used to fund transit projects, in addition to state highway projects.
There is no reason not to think that politics will continue to play a critical role in transportation planning in Maryland. In the meantime, transportation planners and engineers can seek some solace in another reality: more and more hard data continues to become available to enable more objectivity at the staff level in transportation decision-making.
The rest of us can learn from them at the MACo Summer Conference, at the panel, Still Waters Run Deep: Dive Into Your Dark Data Potential.
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