Transportation and Mobility Committee

2016 Transportation and Mobility Committee news:

On April 12, 2016, the Transportation and Mobility Committee held a joint meeting with the Economic Development Committee on the issue of Amtrak’s Baltimore Penn Station Master Plan. Three Amtrak officials made presentations, including: Rina Cutler, Senior Director, Major Stations Planning & Development and Brian Traylor, Infrastructure Planning Manager, Baltimore Penn Station.

Amtrak is in the midst of a three part solicitation for a private sector operator of the station and its surrounding property. The process includes a Request for Information (RFI) from businesses to act as a master developer who would be responsible for an implementable master plan; a Request for Quotation (RFQ), which is a standard business process whose purpose is to invite suppliers into a bidding process to bid on the specific elements of the master plan; and a request for proposal (RFP), which is the solicitation made through a bidding process by a company interested in procuring the right to participate in the Penn Station improvement plan to submit a business proposal.

Amtrak officials suggest referring to www.nec.amtrak.com which will soon have updates about the Baltimore Penn Station plan.

At the Transportation & Mobility Committee’s February 24, 2016 meeting, Maryland Transit Administration Administrator Paul Comfort presented his plan for MTA governance. He indicated that the following items constituted his vision for MTA:

  • The agency will be a driver of economic development by connecting people to jobs in the Baltimore region and beyond across the entire state;
  • The agency will provide a new rail fleet through strategic capital investments;
  • The agency will make the system easier to use and more reliable and thereby increase ridership;
  • The agency will instill a culture of accountability, empowerment and unity among its employees; and
  • The agency will transform the Baltimore regional transit network by implementing BaltimoreLink, thereby improving connectivity with more frequent and reliable service.

In addition, Comfort and Kevin Quinn, the MTA’s Director of Planning and Capital Programming, also presented on the implementation of BaltimoreLink, a refurbished bus transit system in and around Baltimore. The new system is advertised as a unified system of new, high frequency routes that connect seamlessly to MTA’s other modes of transport – Light Rail, Metro, MARC, and commuter bus – into one unit. BaltimoreLink is expected to be fully operational by June 2017.

Comfort concluded by saying that he plans on reconstituting an MTA Advisory Board with ample business representation. Accordingly, he offered membership on it to interested Transportation and Mobility Committee members.

At its January 11, 2016 meeting, the Transportation and Mobility Committee heard from Maryland Delegate Brooke Lierman (D-46) and Maryland Transit Administration Director of Planning Kevin Quinn on issues relative to MTA. This was another in the committee’s series on ‘access to jobs.

Delegate Lierman focused on her efforts in the 2015 session of the Maryland General Assembly to have a bill enacted, HB 546, which would have established the MTA Oversight and Planning Board for purposes of strategic transit planning. Among other things, the bill provided for the membership, term of office, powers, duties, compensation and staffing of the Board. The measure also would have required the board to adopt a strategic plan, updated every five years, as well as to submit an annual report to the Governor and the General Assembly. It received an unfavorable report by Environment and Transportation.

The effort to have this bill passed has been subsumed by a requirement in budget language for periodic reports to the budget committees by MTA on their operations and plans. At this point, there are no intentions of introducing a bill similar to HB 546 in the upcoming session of the legislature.

The second presenter, Kevin Quinn, delivered a PowerPoint presentation on MTA’s plans to implement a revised bus system for the Baltimore area entitled BaltimoreLink. Although the period for public comment on the BaltimoreLink changes concluded on Jan. 11, 2016, Quinn pointed out that MTA representatives have meetings scheduled with complaining businesses over the next several weeks to discuss their issues with BaltimoreLink, and to seek a resolution to them. He also encouraged GBC to communicate future complaints that may be forthcoming to MTA for resolution.

2015 Transportation and Mobility Committee news:

The Transportation and Mobility Committee continued its discussion on the issue of access to jobs. At its December 8, 2015 meeting the committee focused on a transportation commuting strategy for Harbor East/Harbor Point. Laurie Schwartz, President of Waterfront Partnership, Inc., addressed the issue.

Schwartz outlined ways to remedy the increasing congestion levels that confront Harbor East/Harbor Point, which is experiencing burgeoning development. They include:

  1. Take aggressive and continuous steps to improve traffic flow.
  2. Remove single occupancy vehicle commuters by providing improved alternatives.
  3. Improve signalization via wireless signal monitoring and remote signal monitoring at the Traffic Management Center.
  4. Restrict peak period left hand turns.
  5. Provide construction traffic mitigation plans and schedules, set milestones, and communicate progress.
  6. Prepare comprehensive plan for commuters with alternate routes prepared to accept increased traffic volume.
  7. Provide frequent communication, updates and travel advisories.

Schwartz asks the state to provide additional transit service to this fast-growing employment center by offering commuter bus routes serving I-95 from the north, I-83 from Greenspring Station and Howard County from the southwest and more frequent MARC service to Camden Station.

Lastly she advocates for the implementation of a “Last Mile” strategy with an overall goal of keeping cars out of highly congested areas by parking on the city’s perimeter and shuttling employees to and from these parking locations to Harbor East.

The committee also heard from CMTA’s Brian O’Malley on the recently released “2015 Transportation Report Card” for the Baltimore area.

He noted that the overall grade for Baltimore as was “D.”  The report card notes specifically that Baltimore’s transportation system fails to adequately link people to jobs, which are increasingly spread out across the region, not just downtown. It also points out that exceedingly long commutes harm our economy and quality of life.

Finally, the committee briefly discussed the MTA’s BaltimoreLink plan which was presented by the Governor Hogan in October 2015 and will be, in part, ready for implementation in 2016, with final implementation in 2017.

The plan eliminates two “EXPRESS buses” coming into downtown which will have an enormous impact on riders/employees commuting from Baltimore County. These two routes are the 160 Express bus (which picks up riders from the Park & Ride lot on Eastern Avenue in Essex) and the 120 bus (which picks up at the White Marsh Park & Ride lot).

Currently the 160 EXPRESS bus, which usually takes 20-30 minutes for the maximum ride time, would be re-routed in a way that would take riders 1.5 hours or longer to commute one way. Similarly, the riders on the 120 Express currently would expect a 45-minute ride to be extended to a 1.5 to 2 hour commute one way.

The MTA encourages all concerned riders to formally provide comment by either attending a workshop, filling out an online comment form or calling MTA’s comment hotline at 410-454-1998.

The Transportation and Mobility Committee heard from Charles Baber of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council at its October 7, 2015 meeting. Baber focused on access to jobs and the BMC’s 11 areas of business and employment growth. He said that approximately 45 percent of MTA riders make at least one transfer during their commute to arrive at work by 9 a.m., according to 2010 census data.

James Corless, director of Transportation for America, and Erika Young, director of strategic partnerships for Transportation for America, highlighted the impact long commutes and/or poor connectivity have on connecting workers to job opportunities at the committee’s September 14, 2015 meeting.

Corless and Young gave a national perspective to a discussion about access to jobs.

Corless highlighted the impact long commutes and/or poor connectivity – via public transportation – have on connecting workers to job opportunities.

View the presentation about job access here.

Todd Lang, director of transportation planning for the Baltimore Metropolitan Council (BMC), discussed the region’s transportation challenges as they relate to access to jobs during the committee’s August 11, 2015 meeting.

When it comes to improving the connectivity of people to middle-skill jobs – which require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree – one key challenge is that job opportunities exist well beyond the central business district and in the immediate surrounding area, Lang said. In addition to downtown, there are 10 employment centers, including Amazon, Columbia and Hunt Valley.

One way to better connect job seekers to employment opportunities is to focus on planning for road corridors, rather than regional planning, Lang said.

Lang highlighted the Opportunity Collaborative’s Regional Plan for Sustainable Development, released earlier this summer, as a foundation for this corridor-driven planning, as well as other strategies to improve access to jobs.

Those strategies include supporting the coordination of regional transit services and enhancement of the regional transit network as a tool for community and economic development and developing a better understanding of the mid-skill jobs gap through the corridor analysis.

The startup phase of Opportunity Collaborative’s plan is expected to begin soon.

Jodie Misiak, director of innovative finance for the Maryland Department of Transportation, discussed P3s in Maryland during the committee’s May 19, 2015 meeting. She highlighted the success of two P3 projects in the state – Seagirt Terminal and the I-95 travel plazas (Maryland House and Chesapeake House).

The committee learned more about P3’s at its April 8, 2015 meeting when Greg Cannito, managing director of Corvias Solutions, which helps public sector institutions partner with the private sector using a public-private partnership model (P3), made a presentation about P3’s from the private-sector perspective.

Patrick DeCorla-Souza, P3 Program Manager, Office of Innovative Program Delivery, U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, presented to the Transportation and Mobility Committee on March 11, 2015. His presentation focused on an overview of Highway Public-Private Partnerships.

At the committee’s February 11, 2015 meeting, Valorie LaCour, chief, Transportation Planning Division, discussed Baltimore City Department of Transportation Strategic Transportation Safety and Baltimore City Strategic Transportation Safety Plan.


Industry news:

Obama signs $305B highway bill

President Obama signed into a law a five-year, $305 billion highway bill on Friday, with just hours to spare before the scheduled expiration of the nation’s road and transit spending.

Funding had been set to expire at midnight.

The new law, paid for with gas tax revenue and a package of $70 billion in offsets from other areas of the federal budget, calls for spending approximately $205 billion on highways and $48 billion on transit projects over the next five years. It also reauthorizes the controversial Export-Import Bank’s expired charter until 2019.

The measure is the first long-term national transportation spending package in a decade. It follows a string of temporary patches that began before Obama entered office.

Ending the pattern of short stopgap funding fixes has been a priority this year for both the Obama administration and Republican leaders in Congress.

Obama has railed against short-term patches, and he noted Friday that the highway bill that he received from lawmakers fell short of a six-year, $478 billion proposal he sent to Congress earlier this year.

“This bill is not perfect, but it is a commonsense compromise, and an important first step in the right direction,” Obama said in a statement ahead of the bill signing on Friday.

“I look forward to signing this bill right away, so that we can put Americans to work rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, and transit systems, reauthorize the Export-Import Bank that helps our companies compete around the world, and give local and state governments and employers the certainty they need to invest and hire for the long term,” he continued.

Congress has not passed a transportation funding bill that lasts longer than two years since 2005, much to the chagrin of infrastructure advocates in Washington.

Obama proposal relied largely on revenue from taxing corporate profits that are stored overseas to supplement gas tax revenue to pay for transportation projects. Lawmakers largely ignored the administration’s plan, turning instead to other areas of the federal budget to pay for the measure they sent to Obama this week.

The new law, dubbed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or the FAST Act, formally reauthorizes the collection of the 18.4 cents per gallon gas tax that is typically used to pay for transportation projects, and also includes $70 billion in “pay-fors” to close a $16 billion deficit in annual transportation funding that has developed as U.S. cars have become more fuel-efficient.

The gas tax has been the traditional source for transportation funding since its inception in the 1930s, but lawmakers have resisted increasing the amount that drivers pay. The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects; the gas tax only brings in $34 billion annually.

Congress has been struggling for years to come up with a way to pay for a long-term transportation funding extension without raising the gas tax. The offsets in the agreement that was announced on Tuesday include changes to custom fees and passport rules for applicants who have delinquent taxes.

Additional mechanisms include contracting out some tax collection services to private companies — over the objection of unions that represent federal IRS workers — and tapping dividends from the Federal Reserve Bank.

Obama said he will keep pushing Congress to come up with more sustainable way to pay for transportation projects than the patchwork of funding mechanisms lawmakers turned to pay for the measure he signed into law on Friday.

“As we applaud the kind of bipartisan compromise that was reached last night, we should also recognize that we still have work to do,” he said.

“Congress should pass a bill like the GROW AMERICA Act I’ve proposed in the past, one that supports even more jobs and invests even more in our roads and highways than the bill passed last night so we can meet our country’s infrastructure needs,” Obama concluded.

Source: The Hill, December 4, 2015


Transportation and Mobility Committee meetings

Meetings are open to GBC members and held at the GBC. To attend meeting, contact Tara Harris.