Red, Purple lines positioned for federal funds

By Donald C. Fry

Despite fiscal uncertainties on Capitol Hill, Maryland transit officials remain confident that the federal share of funding for both of the state’s top-priority light rail projects – the Purple Line and the Red Line – will be included in Congressional transportation funding, the projects’ top planner told Greater Baltimore Committee members last Monday.

The Purple Line from New Carrollton to Bethesda and Baltimore’s Red Line from Woodlawn to Bayview are well-positioned to be included in transportation funding re-authorization legislation due to be enacted by Congress next fall. Both are high-priority projects in Washington for federal “New Starts” transit funding, said Henry Kay, the Maryland Transit Administration’s executive director for transit development and delivery.

“Through many administrations of all political stripes and different kinds of economic conditions, Congress has funded the New Starts program,” Kay told more than 200 private-sector transportation advocates who attended the GBC’s 2013 Transportation Summit in Baltimore on November 18.

“Barring any major change of federal transportation policy, I think it’s safe to assume that there will be a New Starts program and it will be big enough to fund these projects,” Kay said.

The state estimates that the two projects will receive $1.8 billion in federal funding between them, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation’s six-year Consolidated Transportation Plan.

Heavy construction of the Purple Line is projected to occur between 2015 and 2020, while Red Line heavy construction is projected between 2016 and 2021, Kay said.

Click here for Kay’s full presentation

The GBC’s program featured updates from state officials on critical mobility priorities that they are able to begin addressing as a result of the General Assembly legislation passed during the 2013 session that is projected to generate $4.4 billion in new transportation funding over the next six years. Lawmakers also passed a bill to enable to state to establish a smoother process for developing public-private partnerships.

In addition to the planned new light rail lines, MDOT officials discussed the future of public-private partnerships for transportation and a new growth plan for MARC commuter rail. Speakers also offered updates on rail infrastructure and service in the nation’s Northeast corridor and a report on declining auto use in the nation and the state.

Public-Private Partnerships

Leif Dormsjo, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, offered details on MDOT’s two showcase public-private partnerships:

  • The Seagirt Marine Terminal. Ports America Chesapeake invested $245 million in infrastructure improvements to the state-owned public terminal and to port-related interstate highways that position the Port of Baltimore to handle the container superships that will begin calling on the east coast as a result of the Panama Canal widening. In return, Ports America will operate the Seagirt facility for 50 years and make annual payments to the state of at least $3.2 million beginning in the fifth year of the partnership.
  • I-95 travel plazas. Areas USA, MDTP, LLC is investing $56 million to redesign and rebuild the 48-year-old Maryland House and the 36-year-old Chesapeake House – the two busiest travel plazas on I-95. Areas will operate the plazas through 2047 under a public-private partnership with the state. In return, the state retains ownership and will receive up to $488 million in revenue payments from Areas over a 35-year period.

The state’s new public-private partnership (P3) legislation creates “a more predictable process” for developing partnerships. It signals that “MDOT is open for P3s,” said Dormsjo.

Click here for Dormsjo’s full presentation.

MARC Improvement

The state’s MARC commuter rail will begin weekend service on December 7 on the Penn Line, which will run nine round trips on Saturdays and six round trips on Sundays, said Simon R. Taylor, chief administrator of the Maryland Transit Administration.

Other near-term plans for the Penn Line include parking expansion at the West Baltimore station and expanded commuter bus connectivity, said Taylor.

Near-term improvements for MARC’s Camden Line include plans for transit-oriented development at Savage, including a new garage, office space and a hotel. Other planned near-term improvements include new parking at Laurel and revitalization at Baltimore’s Camden Station.

System-wide MARC improvements will include the purchase of 54 new bi-level cars and 10 new diesel locomotives, said Taylor.

MARC currently serves 35,000 daily passengers on the Penn, Camden and Brunswick lines.

Click here for Taylor’s full presentation.

Northeast Rail

Mitch Warren, executive director of the Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Committee noted dramatically increasing demand for rail service in the corridor that extends from Washington, D.C. to Boston, where 2,000 daily trains carry 750,000 daily passengers along the 457-mile main line through the most densely-populated areas of the U.S.

That passenger demand is augmented by another 700,000 daily riders on more than 1,800 commuter trains daily in the corridor.

Many of the corridor’s long-term challenges relate to aging infrastructure, said Warren. He cited two tunnels and four major bridges were built more than 100 years ago. They include two in Maryland – the B&P Tunnel in Baltimore, built in 1873, and the Susquehanna Bridge built in 1906, which would cost $1.5 billion and $850 million respectively to replace.

Some good news: Amtrak’s investment in Acela premium service has reduced rail travel times and significantly increased the corridor’s rail ridership, said Warren.

For example, rail travel time between Washington and Boston has been reduced by 55 minutes, to 3 hours and 35 minutes since the premium service was initiated in 2000. Intercity rail ridership in the corridor has increased to 11.4 million in 2012, from 8.3 million in 2000. Seventy-six percent of travelers between New York and Washington now take rail, compared to 37 percent in 2000, according to Warren.

Click here for Warren’s full presentation.

Driving Study

Joanna Guy, program associate at the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, summarized a recent study by U.S. PIRG that details an eight-year decline in automobile driving in the U.S.

“The 60-year post World War II driving boom is over,” Guy said, noting that Maryland has experienced a 4 percent decrease in annual per-person vehicle-miles traveled on state highways since 2005 – three years before the recession.

“This trend is about so much more than a temporary recession,” said Guy, urging a continuing emphasis on creating viable transit options in Maryland.

It’s pretty obvious from the standing-room only audience that was attracted to the GBC’s event that the breadth of Maryland’s transportation needs and what is being done to address them are topics of keen interest to Maryland’s business community.

It’s imperative that we make the best strategic use of the funds generated by lawmakers’ passage of badly-needed new revenue to address a 20-year stagnation in funding Maryland’s transportation infrastructure.

It’s also critically important to ensure that Maryland’s future is driven by sustainable funding for the mobility that is fundamental to our state’s economic growth.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. This commentary appeared November 22 in CenterMaryland.org.

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