In a shift away from highways-first transportation policies, top elected officials in the Baltimore region have decided to direct about $340 million in previously unallocated revenue over 20 years entirely toward mass transit projects.
The action by the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board comes in response to protests from citizen advisers and transit advocates that its previous long-range plan, called Transportation Outlook 2035, was too heavily weighted in favor of road projects.
The board is recognized by the federal government as the chief planning body for transportation in the Baltimore metropolitan region. Its members include the mayors of Baltimore and Annapolis, the Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Harford and Howard county executives, the Carroll County commissioners and state transportation officials.
The money comes primarily from Gov. Martin O’Malley‘s 2007 package of revenue increases from such sources as the vehicle titling tax and corporate taxes. The added revenue from that package had not previously been factored into the regional board’s long-range plans.
In a vote last week, the board determined that all of the added funds should go to short- and long-term transit projects, a shift in priorities that officials said reflects concerns about air pollution, gasoline prices and dependence on fossil fuels.
Now, I wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with what the Transportation Board is doing here, if it were not for two key points:
1. Highway Capacity: Anybody who drives around the Baltimore metro area realizes that there are a number of highway projects that need additional highway funds. The Beltway, Route 100, Route 29, and I-83 could all use additional lanemiles in order to meet the already existing demand for these roads, to say nothing of the demand for these roads by 2035.
2. Rewarding poor performance: It makes it very hard to take the Transportation Board seriously as a governor body if they are going to dedicated $340 million in funds to be spent by an agency that has proved that they are, in fact, beyond incompetent. While the money will not all be explicitly spent on Transit Administration related projects, suggested expenditures include additional MARC service and the expansion of the Baltimore subway line. Given the MTA’s poor performance so far, why do local county government wish to reward that failure with the potential infusion of more capital for the MTA and its management to squander?
How long will it be before Maryland has adequate and responsible transportation planning? And how long before Governor O’Malley makes the necessary wholesale changes that that Maryland Transit Administration so desperately needs?