GBC’s Fry: Needed: a focused national transportation strategy

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR

In Baltimore, we tolerate transportation problems like we tolerate the weather.

We expect daily highway gridlock without any alternatives. Our rail transit lines go only north and south and don’t connect. Our MARC commuter rail operates above capacity. Our local buses chug through congested streets. Our commuter bus service has been cut back.

We’ve completely ignored our transportation infrastructure. These are no longer just urban issues. They’re problems for rural Marylanders facing high gas prices, for suburban residents enduring daily rush-hour traffic and worsening sprawl, as well as for city residents coping with inadequate transit even as ridership remains high.

Recent federal stimulus funding for transportation in Maryland helped, but we’re going to need much more than short-term windfalls. Maryland now has a $60 billion backlog of planned-but-unfunded transportation projects.

This year, Congress will introduce new transportation legislation to authorize spending hundreds of billions of dollars while shaping funding policy for decades. So, I respectfully offer Congress a few basic recommendations.

First, define our priorities. Congress must develop a clear set of measurable goals for affordable and accessible transportation.

Second, empower local planners. Congress should empower local transportation agencies, provide direct funding for us to fix our roads and build out our transit systems, and hold us accountable.

Third, build 21st-century transportation. To match demand for transit, Congress needs to ramp up investment and eliminate biases that make it easier to build new highways than to provide better public transportation.

Finally, Congress must link transportation with land use planning. Federal leadership on land use and transportation issues would help us achieve goals to make our communities more accessible.

With its large budget deficits, Maryland faces major challenges in meeting transportation needs. We’ll need a strong federal partner. We’ll need Congress and the President to put aside status-quo politics in favor of bold strategic thinking.

People here and across the nation are ready for a serious strategy to revitalize our transportation system – which leaves just one question – is our government ready to deliver?

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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