Baltimore region needs to get organized for its transportation future

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR:

I recently urged lawmakers to conduct a study to potentially create a Baltimore Regional Transportation Authority.

Why? Because such an authority would give hope to a region that is in dire need of a stronger focus on transportation planning and investment.

Funding transportation will be among Maryland’s top challenges in the coming years. The Baltimore region faces fierce competition for transportation funding at both the state and federal levels, but has historically lacked a strong institutional, government-affiliated advocate for its transportation needs. This weakness in government coordination has resulted in an existing Baltimore-area transit system, for instance, that falls considerably short of being fully integrated – our region’s two rail transit lines do not even connect.

Two transit projects planned for the Baltimore area – the east-west Red Line and the Green Line extension northeast from Johns Hopkins hospital – would resolve many shortcomings. They will require substantial funding commitments at both the state and federal levels.

Yet funding for these projects has already suffered from communication breakdowns and lack of coordination between the Maryland Department of Transportation and planners and advocates within the region. As a result, state funding to begin Red Line construction has been pushed back, and the Green Line was not even included in a recent regional priority list for federal funding. This is why it’s important that we consider options for consolidating and strengthening our region’s transportation planning.

The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board, a part of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, may be a logical foundation on which to build a regional authority. It is already the federally-designated metropolitan planning organization for transportation. It might make sense to consolidate, within this body, the region’s transportation planning, financing, and operations. It could also provide consistent communication with Congress and federal officials to ensure that Baltimore is a significant contender for federal transportation funding.

One thing is certain. If we want improved mobility in Greater Baltimore, we must find a way to get government transportation planning and operation in our region better organized.

For the Regional Business Report, this is Don Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, for 88.1 WYPR, your NPR news station.

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