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Baltimore-area transit expected to reach just 50% of new jobs

MTA Administrator Kevin Quinn. (File photo)

MTA Administrator Kevin Quinn. (File photo)

The Baltimore region is expected to add a substantial number of jobs over the next 25 years, but many of them are likely to be based in places that transit can’t access, according to speakers at the Greater Baltimore Committee’s Transportation and Mobility summit meeting Monday.

While the Maryland Transit Administration is completing a legislatively mandated planning process that could adjust course to serve the potential job locations, MTA Administrator Kevin Quinn said the MTA already faces a roughly $2 billion gap between the expected cost of general improvements and maintenance and current funding levels.

“We’re in a position right now … where we can change this,” Quinn said of his agency’s ability to serve new job locations. “There’s opportunities here for regional collaboration.”

Research done by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council predicts the area will add 440,000 jobs over the next 25 years, speakers told the meeting Monday. Residents who depend on transit, however, are expected to have access to only 50% of those positions.

One major hurdle is land-use decisions, Quinn said. Site selection and zoning for planned employment and residential centers in the region must take transit access into account, he said, adding that elected officials will call the MTA asking for transit service only for agency employees to discover that a development’s parking lot entrance isn’t wide enough for a bus to enter.

“Putting — I’ll say a Walmart — putting a Walmart one mile off the main route makes it very hard to serve by transit,” Quinn said. “Transit works best when it’s going in straight lines, not diverting and taking everybody on the bus on a joyride through this nice scenic area to get to a Walmart.”

Quinn also advocated for better regional collaboration on better-aligned schedules, improved fare collection and more frequent service to job centers.

The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board, the region’s federally recognized planning organization, issued two reports in July that included more than $15 billion in prospective regional transportation projects.

The board’s Maximize2045 plan includes $712 million to develop a Bus Rapid Transit connection between the New Carrollton MARC and Metro stations; $350 million to add new traffic lanes on Interstate 695 between Interstate 70 and Route 43; and $161 million to widen more than two miles of Route 136 in Harford County linking with Interstate 95 from two to four lanes.

The region’s population is expected to balloon by 300,000 residents over the next two decades, with much of that growth happening in areas including Anne Arundel and Queen Anne’s counties, according to Baltimore Metropolitan Council research. Michael B. Kelly, the council’s executive director, said Monday that the new development pattern will tax transit networks.

“It’s going to be more spread out unless this changes,” Kelly said.

The MTA currently has $9.5 billion in assets, of which 80% are related to Metro, MARC and light rail services, Quinn said. Meanwhile, he added, only 15% of the agency’s assets are tied to the bus system, which accounts for about 66% of the trips taken by area transit users.

“Rail is very big and it’s very expensive,” Quinn said.

The agency predicts that maintaining its fleet and facilities in a “state of good repair” over the next decade will cost roughly $4.6 billion, while it is currently expected to receive $3.6 billion in funds for maintenance. In addition, the agency projects the need for $1.1 billion in enhancements — such as improved bus shelters — during the same decade, while it expects to have a budget of $87 million annually during that period.

Quinn said the budget situation was comparable to that of other transit agencies throughout the country.

“As I go out and talk to other CEOs, this is really a problem that’s being faced nationwide,” he said.

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