From Krist Boardman:
Thursday night going from I-70 to the Baltimore Beltway 695 I was presented with the dilemma of driving the northbound route toward Towson and eventually into Harford County, or the southeast route around the beltway, going through the Key Tunnel and northbound on I-95. Taking the southeast route because the Towson route was choked with traffic, I soon realized that the southeastern route was also choked with traffic. This was only Thursday night too; Friday night is usually much worse and that is from any driving location in the Baltimore metropolitan area.
It is at such times that I think I could do a brisk trade in bumper stickers that would say “Stuck in Traffic? Blame Hogan.” After all, he cancelled the Red Line and there really is not a comprehensive central Maryland transportation plan that will relieve the burgeoning traffic load that is overwhelming the area, and which will continue to get worse even if the Red Line is built because it will take years to get the project completed. Even after the Red Line is completed, if it is eventually built, there need to be many other significant transportation improvements to make traveling in the area better. The Hogan Administration has proposed to modify various bus lines which may help a little here and there, but these will have minimal impact on the overall situation.
For example, a proposal which I pitched to the good citizens of Darlington when I ran as a candidate for council president in 2014, to run a spur line from Bel Air to the Hunt Valley to Baltimore Light Rail line, was met with jeers and derision. Many good suburbanites believe that any public transportation links between Baltimore and the outer suburbs will be simply used by criminals from the city to burglarize homes in the suburbs. What many of these critics lose sight of is that the criminals who would have to take public transportation to get to the suburbs, would have to also use it to get back, and how many burglars are going to carry their booty such as 60 inch television screens, back with them on the transit lines without getting caught? They’d be better off if they drove to the suburbs in cars than if they took public transportation, but they can do that now anyway and we don’t have the public transportation.
A spur to the Hunt Valley to Baltimore light rail line would enable people to travel to the airport directly without having to drive or park. It not only would enable commuters to get to work places in the city from Harford County; it would enable commuters to get to work places in Cockeysville and Hunt Valley too instead of having to drive on not very good roads. In addition, that light rail connection gets sports fans to and from Oriole Park and M & T Stadium.
Another example of another good project would be a commuter rail line between Baltimore and Frederick. Take I-70 between those two locations during rush hours and you can see the snarl of congestion growing regularly. Fact is, there are lots of commuters who live in Frederick and work in Baltimore or vice versa who can only travel on I-70 or U.S. 40 and there are too many of them. I brought up the question of a rail link with state transportation officials and they said that to share the existing railroad tracks owned by CSX would be very difficult because CSX wants exclusive use for its freight services.
But this could be solved with negotiations for rush hour traffic use by a commuter link, or the state could build a track right down the middle of I-70 with underpasses or overpasses such as is done in many other places throughout the U.S. and maybe there would not be need for an agreement with CSX though it would be more costly to build the dedicated track. But this is an issue that will also have to be addressed and maybe not just by widening I-70, another costly proposition.
One promising program being launched in Baltimore city is an electrically-powered bicycle system that users pay a small amount to ride from one station in the city to another. This however is not a regional commuter plan such as the Red Line and other improvements described above. Governor Hogan is enamored of the Japanese-sponsored Maglev system proposed to run along the eastern corridor from Washington to New York and also Boston. But an obvious defect in that plan is that Baltimore does not have a good internal transportation link to get people easily to Maglev.
It seems the Hogan Administration is caught within its own mistaken choices yet does not want to make changes in its own mindset. Republicans are against borrowing money to build things, and since these projects come mostly from Democrats, that is even more of a reason for Hogan and his fellow Republicans to be against them. This meant that even when the Obama Administration had committed $900 million for the Red Line, a significant down payment, Hogan was against building it. The Maryland legislature in its wisdom increased the gasoline tax, anticipating that some of the money would be used for the Red Line, but the governor’s cancellation resulted in the monies being spent on far-flung suburban road improvements instead of on remaking the overall Maryland transportation structure which was what was intended. And also by cancelling the Red Line the governor threw away $300 million already spent on preliminary work for the Red Line.
As you may recall, something similar happened a few years ago when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker cancelled a high speed rail line that would have run from Chicago to Minneapolis through Wisconsin, even though federal funds were already committed. Walker’s attitude was that there should be no forward progress if Democrats were in favor of this.
During the presidential primary campaign, Independent Bernie Sanders running for the Democratic nomination, repeatedly called for infrastructure improvements as a way of restarting the economy. Many projects have been stalled in recent years on the federal level but also on the state level the repair of bridges such as the U.S. Route 40 bridges in Harford County and other disputes between the governor and legislature have postponed further progress. If Sanders were elected president, he surely also would have faced obstruction from the Congress.
The interesting factor now is that the new president-elect, Donald Trump, is sure to clash against a Republican-controlled Congress over infrastructure improvements and how to finance them.
Trump does not want to continue with some of the trends, where funds go to protect foreign countries while the U.S. ignores needs at home. If Trump eventually gets his way, even Larry Hogan may have to rethink his priorities and plan for Maryland’s future instead of simply dragging his heels.