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As 2020 comes to an end, I look toward 2021 with hope and optimism. We’re closing one of the most difficult chapters of our lives. Yet, Marylanders have shown resiliency and an ability to adapt that gives me hope for the future.

It’s no secret that our day-to-day lives have been upended by COVID-19. Our transportation system is no exception.

The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) this year has seen dramatic decreases in travel across our transportation network. Those decreases have resulted in historic revenue declines. As a result, our budgets are going to be negatively impacted in 2021 and beyond.

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

I see this difficult time as an opportunity to prepare for the future. It’s a chance to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions to address Maryland’s transportation challenges. It’s also an opportunity to plan for and develop transportation improvements that will benefit residents and businesses for generations to come.

With budget season approaching, MDOT is focused on preserving what we have, planning for future projects, building what we can to support Maryland’s economic recovery, and providing safe and accessible mobility choices. As we all know, a reliable and efficient transportation system is necessary for residents and businesses to thrive.

This fall, I attended the state’s annual Consolidated Transportation Program (CTP) tour for the first time as Maryland’s Secretary of Transportation. These meetings, held virtually in all 23 counties and Baltimore City, gave me an opportunity to listen and learn firsthand about Marylanders’ transportation priorities.

We also used these online gatherings to lay out MDOT’s six-year capital budget and 2021 operating budget, which will be voted on by the General Assembly this winter. The Draft FY 2021-2026 CTP totals $13.4 billion, or $2.9 billion less than last year’s CTP.

I assure you we didn’t draft this budget proposal lightly.

We’ve used technology and data to guide our decisions throughout the budget process. We held regular discussions with major stakeholders – job and health care centers, for instance – to make sure we’re still able to provide valuable services, like transit for essential workers. We looked closely at how to best spend our dollars while keeping equity, accessibility, safety and efficiency in mind.

In short, the state is facing an unprecedented financial challenge, and during these difficult times, we’re focusing on the protection of residents and workers who need us most.

Budget impacts hurt. They force us to prioritize and, sometimes, to make tough decisions. As a result of our current financial situation, residents may notice some changes. I’m talking about state roads in worse condition, tall grass on state properties because we can’t afford to cut it, and poorer aesthetics as we reduce graffiti cleanup, among other potential impacts. On top of that, we’re facing billions of dollars in work needed to keep our infrastructure in a state of good repair.

It’s critical we find a way to stretch every dollar a little more while impacting Marylanders as little as possible. While federal CARES Act funding was a big help, we will continue working with our congressional delegation to try to secure more federal dollars. We’ll also continue to communicate closely with local leaders as we move forward with projects, big and small, throughout this public health emergency.

During the Great Recession, I served as Planning Director at the MDOT State Highway Administration, so I know firsthand how our budgets matter to Marylanders. They can impact your life, and they can expand – or limit – your opportunities. This budget was built with data and creative thinking. It was built with care and sacrifice. And it was built with our residents and businesses in mind.

We’re hopeful that our budget situation will improve, but in the meantime, we’ll continue to focus on system preservation across our transportation network, as well as building a shelf of projects for the next generation. I ask that Marylanders keep our long-term plans in mind as we face the financial challenges of 2021 and beyond.

Throughout our virtual tour of the state this fall, I was most impressed by the passion our local leaders showed when discussing their transportation priorities. Their knowledge and thoughtfulness spoke volumes. I’m also grateful these leaders displayed compassion and understanding while we discussed the financial challenges facing the state.

At the end of each CTP meeting this fall, I asked our elected officials if they could have one thing, what would it be? The answers varied, from more transit to improved highways. But no matter where we were, local leaders and community members recognized the importance of a strong transportation network for residents and businesses.

That puts us all on the same page. And that’s going to make my job easier as we continue to forge ahead through this pandemic.

We have a tough road ahead. Know that MDOT is doing its part to ensure we’re well positioned for the future, when this crisis comes to an end and our budget situation improves. Future generations are counting on it.

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