Governor Hogan’s first transportation secretary recently resigned and on his way out the door he told a newspaper, “I believe we still have a disproportionate share of the (transportation) trust fund going to transit.”
What the departing secretary never seemed to understand about Maryland is that focusing on multiple modes of transportation: bus, rail, air, sea, bike, feet and yes, cars, is a feature, not a bug, of the state’s system.
Fifty years ago, the Curlett Commission proposed reorganizing the executive branch in Maryland into a Cabinet form government. As to transportation, the report said it would “include programs and agencies primarily concerned with the transportation of people and goods within and through the State.”
That original mission statement does not mention cars or roads. It proposed the combination of 13 agencies or state commissions under a consolidated Maryland Department of Transportation. Following this vision, the department and a consolidated Transportation Trust Fund, our state’s multimodal transportation budget, was established in 1971 under the visionary leadership of our state’s first MDOT secretary (and future governor) Harry Hughes.
Since that time, that multi-modal mission has advanced. The Port of Baltimore is booming and BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport has the most passengers of any airport in the D.C. region. Plenty of roads, tunnels and bridges have been built and, to be sure, there is work to do to maintain that necessary infrastructure.
What is now the Maryland Transit Administration provides local subway, light rail and bus service in the Baltimore region. MDOT began subsidizing private commuter rail in 1974, and that evolved into the state’s MARC commuter rail service in 1984.
In a series of legislative steps over the years, the state has picked up more of the costs for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority that used to be the responsibility of local governments and taxpayers, culminating in regional, bipartisan passage of dedicated funding in 2018.
But despite that long-term multimodal trend, the largest share of the state’s transportation capital spending has always gone to the State Highway Administration in both state and federally budgeted funds. The Hogan administration cut the Baltimore region Red Line light rail project; has slowed down any progress on the Southern Maryland Rapid Transit plan; slated for elimination the Bus Rapid Transit Corridor Cities Transitway and abandoned support for other BRT lines; under-invested in MTA’s capital needs by $200 million per year, according to their own estimates; and has no new transit projects in the planning stage for the first time in anyone’s memory.
It has done all this while promoting a pie-in-the-sky four lane mega highway toll lane widening that will allegedly cost the state no money; pose no taxpayer risk; solve all of our traffic problems; not require the taking of any land; and will somehow help the environment (none of which can be achieved).
Maryland needs to remember the founding multimodal mission of MDOT and the need to move people, not cars, while also recognizing the role transportation infrastructure has to play in economic development and preserving our environment. Over the next few years, Maryland needs to:
- Increase investment in transit: Maryland must maintain and expand existing transit lines, as well as build new ones around the state; establish run-through commuter rail service with Virginia; plug MTA’s maintenance/state of good repair gap; and finish and implement the Regional Transit Plan for Central Maryland. And we must prioritize and incentivize the use of transit, not just lament its existence or ridership.
- Ensure transportation investments are environmentally sustainable: Maryland must fully embrace the Transportation & Climate Initiative, a regional partnership to cap and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the transportation sector, now our largest emitter; electrify our state, local and school bus fleets; expand electric charging infrastructure and access to electric vehicles; and encourage sustainable development around transit.
- Reform our transportation planning: Maryland must do more to integrate local and regional priorities in transportation decision-making; place sensible limits and controls on the use of mega toll lane projects that can enter the state into 50-year contracts for 100-year infrastructure with just two votes; require that planning take account of multimodalism and mandate that any new infrastructure accommodate bikers, pedestrians and other users; and continue the recent work of the State Highway Administration that has begun to recognize that context matters.
- Sustain and enhance our success: The Port of Baltimore and Thurgood Marshall BWI Airport are economically critical components of our state’s transportation system and Maryland must keep them in their prime regional positions.
We must undertake all of this while we maintain, enhance and make safer the existing road network that we have, including our bridges and tunnels, and ensure equitable access for all Marylanders, whether they be economically disadvantaged or in need of paratransit.
These are just some examples of the work the legislative and executive branches need to undertake together, along with our county and municipal partners, community members, and other stakeholders, as we look towards building a successful future for Maryland’s multimodal transportation system.
Marc Korman is a delegate in the 16th District for Maryland House of Delegates.