Don Fry Commentary on WYPR
In a legislative session characterized more by partisan and procedural maneuvering than policymaking, the General Assembly’s theme for transit seemed to be “look before you leap.”
Here are some of the highlights.
Of the nearly two dozens bills affecting transit this year, only a handful made it to the Governor’s desk for signature.
First, the Maryland Transit Administration’s most high profile project in the Baltimore region – the Red Line – will get additional oversight from a new Citizens Advisory Council. With members appointed by the legislature, the Governor, Baltimore’s Mayor, and Baltimore County Executive, the group will help ensure that the project serves the communities it is proposed to travel through.
MTA is also now required to consider establishing a fund to compensate the owners of property damaged by the project; to consider commercial development opportunities around stations; and to consider methods to give preferential treatment to corridor residents when hiring for construction jobs.
Another trio of bills would have dedicated a portion of the state sales tax to transit. This issue was driven by Washington area legislators who set their sights on additional federal funding for Metro in exchange for coming up with a dedicated state source of transit funding.
This went a little far for the fiscal hawks in Annapolis, so the General Assembly instead passed a bill requiring MDOT to study transit funding needs and mechanisms to meet those needs. Presumably, the study findings will be the basis of a future legislative initiative.
This comes none too soon for the Red and Green line projects. The federal government will soon assess their feasibility, and requirements include a reasonably secure source of funding.
Finally, Baltimore area legislators put a halt to the on-going initiative to restructure MTA bus service. Buried in the budget bill was a provision preventing the MTA from implementing the next round of changes until it holds public hearings and prepares a study on the impacts of the first round. The Ehrlich administration now says it will be next year before more changes are made.
With regard to public transportation, the General Assembly’s message was that these are important issues, and a little additional study and oversight will improve the final product. Although quality transit projects are an appropriate goal, transit advocates must ensure that we don’t stymie progress in the decision process and miss the limited funding windows presented in the federal funding stream to achieve the vision of developing a quality transit system in the Greater Baltimore region.
For the Regional Business Report, this is Don Fry, President of the Greater Baltimore Committee, for 88.1 WYPR, your NPR news station.