Thursday, December 1, 2016

Infrastructure in Maryland: Roads and Bridges

Even though Maryland's Governor held a prudent distance to the President elect, his understanding of what it means to spend on infrastructure could be a harbinger for what's in store on the federal level.

Everybody knows by now about the urban and the rural voting camps and that the rural camp is in power in the State and in DC. It can be expected that future infrastructure investment will mostly benefit the rural and out suburbs. Hogan's recently announced largess for a complete reconstruction of the Nice Bridge over the Potomac is just an example. $765 million State money for a 1.7 mile bridge about which his own transportation secretary recently said it had 30 years left in it if properly maintained.
The Governor announcing a new Nice Bridge

His toying with a third span for a Bay crossing to the Eastern Shore came earlier this year and his 2015 taking State dollars from urban transit in Baltimore and Washington to spend it on rural roads instead is still a fresh scar.

Although with less money than originally set aside for the study, a feasibility analysis for a Charles County transit corridor is moving forward. That it hasn't been killed altogether has probably to do with the fact that it will run in a largely suburban area with many conservative constitutents who for a while favored giving up on smart growth altogether.

If those investments would only serve different constituents but would be otherwise comparable and equally effective one could chalk this up to normal political fluctuation. But unfortunately, this isn't the case. While new rural roads and bridges will certainly produce some temporary construction jobs, no transportation expert or economist would be able to make the case that they leverage large economic benefits. The biggest short-term benefit is that green areas will be opened up to subdivision development because the isochrones  will shift and make more areas accessible to the maximally reasonable commute. But as any economist can tell, those benefits are like straw-fires, a burst of heat and then nothing but ashes. Sprawl doesn't pay its way in the long run and leaves nothing but depleted landscapes and not very viable mono-culture communities.
crumbling infratsructure in Baltimore

That the highway invetsments in rural areas are so hard to justify in terms of transportation needs or economic development is likely a key reason for the Governor to fight that bill that would install a transportation scoring system so fervently.

That will be the crux with all infrastructure spending we may see in the next four years, if campaign promises are any indication: Roads and bridges instead of high speed rail, fixed sewer lines or better transit. Let alone schools, libraries or fire houses. Baltimore better not hold its breath waiting for many additional federal transportation dollars.
A failed model for urban mobility

Baltimore City and Under Armour are waiting to get federal dollars for a new light rail sour into Port Covington in the 2017 round of grants. With a large corporation being the main beneficiary, this could actually still happen, who knows. But generally, Baltimore better find new creative ways to fund its public works projects, largess from Washington isn't very likely.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA