Friday, November 11, 2011

Maryland 2020 Transit Map: Smart Growth Leaders Demand Big Vision, Real $$$ // Biz Leader: Gas Tax for 100% Free Transit?

UPDATE: Some area business leaders agree with Maryland Juice. I just caught this majorly outside-the-box comment from prominent business leader Jack Garson in the The Gazette:
Jack Garson, founder of Bethesda law firm Garson Claxton and a member over the years of various state, county and regional advisory boards, said raising the gasoline tax is only fair, “so that all of the costs of driving are borne by drivers. This will increase the cost of driving to an amount that more closely approximates the true expenses created by driving....”

“But I would devote a large share to improving and constructing mass transit, especially subway systems. I would entirely eliminate the fee to users of the subways and run the trains on a 24/7 continuous basis,” Garson said.

Mass transit routes should be “dramatically extended ... This would result in increased usage, eliminate the costs associated with personnel and equipment for the collection of subway fees, [and] enhance productivity as businesses and society at large would have a new, round-the-clock means of traveling vast distances,” he said.

It would potentially be the equivalent of a new Internet for people, not data. Free mass transit all of the time would produce all kinds of new business and new ways of doing business,” Garson said. “Similarly, the reduction in road congestion would then reduce time lost in traffic and the wear and tear on, and need for, new roads."
Maryland Juice thought this would be a good time to dust off an old map created by smart growth bloggers at Greater Greater Washington. The map was created in February of 2008, and came with this statement:
This map shows what the transportation system of the Baltimore-Washington area would look like if most of the proposed improvements are built. In particular, it includes the Silver Line to Dulles; several new infill Metro stations; turning MARC and VRE into transit-like service with frequent trains that run through from Maryland to Virginia so all commuters can reach Union Station, L'Enfant Plaza, Crystal City, and Alexandria; and light rail lines in the District, Northern Virginia, and Maryland including the Baltimore expansions that have been proposed.
In the meantime, some of these projects have moved forward (ie: the Dulles Silver Line), some are not on this map (ie: Montgomery Councilmember Marc Elrich's Countywide Bus Rapid Transit plan), and the DC Metro region is now #1 in the nation for traffic & long commutes.

VISION: DC Metro to Baltimore Transit Map (Zoom-In for Details)

It is hard to look at the future transportation goals of Maryland and not see the massive potential improvements in quality of life and the new ways we can fully harness our region's workforce and economic development potential. What are we waiting for?

Indeed, yesterday a coalition of groups from around the State banded together to push for Maryland to prioritize transit funding. The following groups issued the statement below: 1000 Friends of Maryland, Coalition for Smarter Growth, Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, Prince George’s Advocates for Community-based Transit (PG ACT), Action Committee for Transit (ACT), and Red Line Now PAC.

Press Release
Today, a group of smart growth, transportation, and environmental organizations called on the Maryland General Assembly and Governor to commit to smarter transportation investments as a prerequisite to any revenue increases.

“If Marylanders are asked to pay more, each dollar must be invested wisely. Residents need better and more affordable transportation choices. We cannot afford to continue business as usual, building the same  high-cost transportation system that provides only temporary congestion relief and does nothing to advance energy security,” said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, Executive Director of 1000 Friends of Maryland.

Rob Etgen, a member of the Governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation and Executive Director of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, expressed concern in the final outcome of the commission.  "The Blue Ribbon Commission heard compelling testimony that smarter land use decisions coupled with more strategic investment priorities for transportation funds could save roughly one-third of capital and maintenance funds for the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) over the next twenty years.  Yet, amid the focus on new revenue sources, this call for more strategic investment of transportation funds was relegated to the Blue Ribbon Commission’s third recommendation and lacks specific or meaningful commitments."

"Certainly for the economic engines of our state and to reduce our oil dependency, the suburban Maryland Purple Line and the Baltimore Red line, combined with a robust MARC system should be top priorities for any new funding," said Karren Pope-Onwukwe of the Prince George’s Advocates for Community-based Transit.

"Maryland can chart a new course in transportation that is fiscally prudent, environmentally sustainable and economically competitive, but not if the state just throws more money into the pot.  We need a rigorous linkage to smart growth land use policies," said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

The group urged Maryland leaders to ensure every new dollar is invested more wisely.  In particular, the group asked leaders to commit to:
  • Maintain and repair existing infrastructure, including roads, bridges and transit systems;
  • Revisit legacy project lists, and focus on projects that support smart growth and meet the growing demand for more transportation choices that save time and money and help reduce our dependence on oil. These include transit, carpooling, and bicycle/pedestrian investments;
  • Invest in the top priority transit projects to expand Maryland’s transportation choices: suburban Maryland’s Purple Line, Baltimore’s Red Line, and the MARC Growth and Investment Plan;
  • Spark innovation and cost-savings through a statewide competitive transportation solutions program modeled on the Federal TIGER grant program; and
  • Invest in rural communities through maintenance projects, local street networks to support the growth of towns, and expanded rural transit. 
Given the ongoing recession and high unemployment, the group noted that public transportation, followed by road maintenance are the biggest job creators. According to the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership, investments in road maintenance projects create 9 percent more jobs than spending on new highway capacity; increasing transit capacity creates 19 percent more jobs than new highway capacity.

"We seek a win-win solution for urban, suburban and rural areas of the state," said Schmidt-Perkins.  "By focusing on transit, on road maintenance and on local road networks, we can provide the most effective solutions for all areas of the state."

Speaking of the needs of the Eastern Shore, Etgen noted that the Blue Ribbon Commission didn't fulfill its charge to evaluate regional authorities.  "The Eastern Shore Regional Transportation Advisory Council recommended the establishment of a regional transportation authority, which would be critical for supporting our regional bus service to link the communities of the Eastern Shore.”

The group promised to campaign for its smarter spending approach in the expected debate over Maryland transportation funding.

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