Maryland transportation activists have put forward a plan – with some support from officials – that would stress transit, including enhanced MARC, against the roads-happy Hogan administration. But the climate for transit spending is not likely to improve.
The Washington Socialist <> December 2016
Can a new plan for transportation in Maryland lead to fundamental shift in priorities in favor of transit and away from highways?
A new group, the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition (MTOC), hopes so.
The highway lobby, backed by a number of officeholders in Montgomery and Frederick Counties, is pushing to spend $8 billion to add lanes to I-270 and I-495 between Frederick and the American Legion Bridge. MTOC believes the money could be better spent on expanding the state’s rail transit network and improving service on existing lines.
At the top of MTOC’s wish list (see map) is the resurrection of the proposed Red Line of Baltimore’s light rail, which was on the drawing boards until scrapped by the administration of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan; the building of the planned but long-delayed Metrorail Purple Line to run from Bethesda to New Carrollton; a new light-rail line from the Branch Ave. Metrorail station to Waldorf in Southern Maryland; and substantially increased service on existing MARC commuter rail lines.
“This is both a long-term and an immediate legislative program,” said Ben Ross, MTOC’s chair. Ross, a resident of Bethesda and former member of Democratic Socialists of America, has a long record of transit activism, having chaired the Action Committee for Transit, which advocated for transit improvements in Montgomery County, especially the Purple Line. Ross is also author of the 2014 book Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism (which I previously reviewed for the Socialist), a critique of sprawl development and the need for metropolitan areas to adopt smart-growth principles, including a shift from highway-oriented to transit-centered development.
Ross believes that the transit improvements “are very financeable over 10 years.” Money saved from scrapping the new lanes on I-270 and I-495, along with canceling the widening of Route 404 leading into Delaware – which is “only congested on a few summer weekends,” Ross said – and changing the gas tax from a per-gallon to a per-dollar assessment could not only pay for the new Maryland transit improvements but also make a substantial contribution to the repair and upkeep of the beleaguered Washington-area Metrorail system, while at the same time avoiding service cuts.
Most of the coalition’s priorities involve the implementation of transit plans already proposed, including the canceled Baltimore Red Line, the suburban Washington Purple Line – which Hogan approved but with reduced state funding – and a MARC upgrade plan from 2007.
Participating in the October unveiling of the MTOC initiative in Baltimore were a number of elected officials, including State Sen. Jim Rosapepe (whose district includes parts of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties), Del. Brooke Lierman of Baltimore, and Prince George’s County Councilman Mel Franklin.
MTOC plans to build on the political support it has already gained in order to make the highways-vs-transit debate an issue in future elections in Maryland, Ross said. Despite Hogan’s affinity for highways, the plan “is not immediately tied to one governor,” he stressed.
While not all of MTOC’s vision will be achieved overnight – and much of it might seem pie in the sky – it does provide a marker to determine whether candidates for public office in the state are truly committed to supporting transit. With the election of a candidate for President who disagrees with the scientific consensus that climate change is caused by human activity, the burden might be on the states to develop strategies to limit greenhouse emissions caused by gasoline-burning cars. MTOC’s plan provides such a blueprint for Maryland, if the coalition can convince the state’s leaders to embrace it.
-- Bill Mosley
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