Tuesday, July 28, 2015

With the eyes wide open - full steam into the distant past

I had thought that there can't be much else written about the abortion of the Red Line at full term, a terminology I have avoided so far because of its drastic tone.
Red Line: Edmondson Avenue Tunnel Portal

But the way the Hogan administration operates in matters of transportation is so drastic that it requires ongoing commentary and vigilance.

The joint hearing hearing of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and the House Appropriations Committee last Tuesday, July 21st, made it more than clear, we are going full steam backwards into an age we had thought to be long behind us: The age of asphalt, concrete and nothing but cars and roads. Current policy isn't just 20 years in the past, it goes at least back beyond the federal ISTEA transportation law of George Bush the elder of 1991 ("Intermodal Transportation" Act) and probably as far back as before 1972 and the first oil shock. It definetly goes way further back than the Republican Governor Ehrlich and his Secretary of Transportation, Bob Flannigan ever went.

Barry Rascovar wrote this in the Maryland Reporter:
You’ve got to give Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn credit for one thing: honesty.
He fessed up at a legislative hearing last week that Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. had stripped every last cent from Baltimore’s Red Line rail-transit initiative – as well as most of the state’s previously allocated dollars for the Washington area’s Purple Line – and shifted the entire amount into highway and bridge projects far removed from Maryland’s population centers.
All of those hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for rapid rail expansion now “have been committed to roads,” an unapologetic Rahn said.
In place of a $3 billion rapid rail Red Line for Baltimore, Rahn and Hogan say they will make “cost-effective” improvements to the region’s slow-moving, underperforming bus system.
Those will be largely cosmetic fixes. Why? Because Rahn set up a situation where there’s no money to undertake major improvements.
Anybody who still thinks that it doesn't matter if one votes or how one votes and that "they are all the same", get your head out of the sand!

Governor Hogan dismantled the artfully constructed Maryland transportation policy of the O'Malley administration like a little kid brings down a delicate tower of building blocks: with a crash, unapologetic and without as much skill as brute force.

It is not really innovative to take the transportation trust fund and re-stack expenditures entirely in favor of roads. That is where it had been during most of the post WW II history, that is why the US has double the per person miles traveled by car (VMT), one of the highest per household commute costs, high traffic fatalities, unprecedented urban congestion, an enormous energy consumption per person and low transit ridership in almost all cities. Governors  Glendening and O'Malley tried to revert some of those negative trends through smart growth and by giving transit a larger piece of the pie.

It needs to be remembered that the 2013 Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act that was approved in Annapolis (typically called the gas tax bill) was a complicated and diverse construct (to some extent actually copied from the Republicans in Virginia). It allowed all the rural road construction that any legislator had dreamed of (that is how O'Malley got the votes of rural legislators) and enough money for transit so that both, the Purple and the Red Line could be built. The funding scheme was solid enough that the federal transit administration FTA accepted it and recommended setting aside its own share for both projects!
O'Malley announces the Preferred Red Line aletrnative
with Congressman Cummings standing by

Along comes Hogan, sees the low hanging fruit and just takes it in favor of  road construction bonanza that is beyond any reason. The argument that "we can't afford" (The Red Line or the originally anticipated $720 million State share of the Purple Line) is completely incredible if the money is not saved but simply spent another way without any further analysis of costs and benefits.

Across the world politicians of all colors realize that urbanized areas cannot build themselves out of congestion by adding roads or more lanes. Across the world it is recognized that road capacity produces "induced demand" and eventually sprawl which gobbles up the benefit while leaving tax payers holding the bag for ongoing maintenance and all the inefficiencies already noted. Across the world politicians recognize that we live in an age of cities. To ignore all of that knowledge requires an attitude that is the opposite of "the best solution rising to the top" (a stated Hogan goal), and simply gives all the dough to the best buddies.

As some Coppin State nursing students correctly observed when they attended the hearing in Annapolis for social study credits, cutting all new transit, raising the fares for transit riders while lowering road tolls is not only unfair, anti-Baltimore and anti-minority, it is a slap in the face, it adds insult to injury and it opens the door to all the anti urban innuendo that lurks in the suburbs such as this:
And rapid rail spreads crime...
And the homeless use the light rail cars as mobile homes and toilets at night... My wife used to use the light rail to get to her job and experienced these behaviors...
Some of the rail stations also become homes and criminals lurk there... Ask the people near North Linthicum how much they like the station...
Then, there was the 24 year old casino employee killed by an illegal dirt biker doing tricks in a station parking lot...She left behind a 6 year old daughter...
Crime also spreads via bus... And, some routes are dangerous to riders because of the thugs who ride the busses...(an online comment)
Folks that worked on West Baltimore station area plans
It is clear that one can disagree about the right transportation policies or the appropriate budget priorities. One can argue for lower State transit expenditures, but a reduction of 92% is beyond reason.  It is par for the course to criticize a predecessor's transportation project or even cancel it. But to do it with false statements ("the proposed Red Line does not connect to the existing system"), wrong analogies (the Secretary referred to the stuck tunnel machine "Bertha" in Seattle which got stuck boring a 60' diameter road tunnel while at the same time Seattle successfully completed 21' transit tunnels)  and insulting classifications ("fatally flawed, boondoggle" etc.) is neither necessary nor helpful.

Maryland's State transportation policy is stuck worse than Bertha in Seattle. To dig a relief shaft to free it from being mired way in the past will be costly, time consuming and hurt the Baltimore Metro Region for years to come..

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Barry Rascovar's commentary in Maryland Reporter

1 comment:

  1. Maybe the GOP wants to plan for Self Driving Cars and the Maglev...

    Ask the Donald.