Draft region plan needs more transit, BRAC projects

Shortcomings in a recent draft regional transportation plan for the next three decades serve to illustrate the urgent need for increasing state transportation funding sooner rather than later, GBC president and CEO Donald C. Fry told the region’s top elected officials at an August 28 hearing.

The draft plan, “Outlook 2035,” which is intended to prioritize transportation projects for the region through the year 2035, does not adequately reflect needed transit projects, Fry said. Nor does it include needed BRAC-related initiatives, most of which are highway projects, he told members of the Baltimore Region Transportation Board (BRTB), which is comprised of top elected officials in Baltimore City and counties in the Baltimore region.

The draft transportation priority list reflects only existing transportation funding levels and current growth trends and does not assume that more revenue will be channeled to transportation.

Its practical, limited scope – for a long-range plan – underscores the impact on the Baltimore region of current transportation funding levels. “Inadequate transportation funding represents the most significant challenge to Maryland’s economic growth over the next decade,” said Fry.

Released in July, the draft plan focuses largely on highway improvements and includes the planned Red Line rapid transit leg from Woodlawn to Canton – one of the GBC’s top transportation priorities. However, it does not include another high GBC priority — the Green Line metro extension northeast from Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions to Morgan State University and beyond to northeast Baltimore County.

Fry noted that, like the Red Line, the Green Line was a core element of the Baltimore Regional Rail Plan adopted by the BRTB in 2002. “It most assuredly merits mention in Outlook 2035,” said Fry. To draft a subsequent plan proposing that in 2035 – more than three decades later – the Red Line would be the sole completed project “severely questions the region’s and its elected officials’ commitment to a regional rail plan or to transit planning,” he said.

“BRAC considerations also need a more prominent discussion in the report,” Fry added. He noted that the state’s FY 2007-2012 Consolidated Transportation Program identifies 30 projects, mostly highway improvements, to address projected BRAC-related growth. The estimated $4.2 billion cost of these projects has not yet been funded.

While Outlook 2035 does include some improvements to MARC commuter rail resources in the region, the report needs to give more emphasis to increasing commuter train capacities and significantly expanding the frequency of service.

“There are too few options for people to utilize the MARC system,” Fry contends, noting that the Baltimore – Washington MARC system needs weekend service and more trains operating throughout the weekdays, not just during rush hours.

Unlike some, given tightening transportation capital budgets, who advocate for shifting funding away from highways to transit, Fry said the GBC does not favor such an approach. “Long-range transportation planning should focus on both highways and transit,” he said. “The proper approach to ensure a comprehensive, integrated, balanced transportation system is to create more revenue for all modes.”

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