Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Hogan's transportation: Full steam backwards

"This level of road construction is historic and unprecedented" (Governor Hogan)

When Governor Hogan brought Pete Rahn from New Mexico to become his transportation secretary, the word was that Rahn was a highway man. It turns out that was an massive understatement. Since in office the duo Hogan/Rahn cancelled the Baltimore Red Line, cut the state share on the Purple Line project from $700 million to $168 million, put the Corridor Cities Transitway on the back burner and unleashed a barrage of road and bridge projects. 
Hogan and Rahn announce the cancellation of the Red Line
Instead of a $2.9 billion rail transit project, Baltimore got a $135 million lump of coal in its stocking in the shape of a yet to be loved bus overhaul. But for those who want to stick with the transportation policies of the last century it has been Christmas all the time:

First Maryland's bridge and tunnel tolls were reduced, then a new Nice Bridge bridge and a third span across the Bay announced, then it was new toll lanes on Washington's Beltway. Just when one thought there simply wouldn't be any more roads to build or widen, Hogan stepped up to the microphone Tuesday with another big Christmas present for the concrete and asphalt lobby: How big? $461 million big. And what is in Santa's bag this time?
  • $151 million "for innovative congestion relief" (press release) on both inner and outer loops of I-695 from I-70 to MD 43, turning the inside shoulder into a new available lane of traffic. Adaptive ramp metering also will be employed throughout the 19 miles of that project.
  • $100 million for the design and construction of a new configuration of the I-695 and I-70 interchange, often referred to as the “triple bridges.” This will bring significant traffic relief to the entire Baltimore area and directly addresses six of the top 15 congested road segments in the state.
  • $210 million to extend the northbound I-95 Express Toll Lanes (ETL) for 7.75 miles from north of MD 43 in Baltimore County to MD 24 in Harford County. (MDOT press release)
Poor grades for regional transit (CMTA)
"This level of road construction is historic and unprecedented"
"We are finally using the Transportation Trust Fund for what is meant to be used for" (Governor Hogan at his announcement).
The Governor emphasized that all projects are paid for without additional debt. That is possible because gas tax increases installed under Governor O'Malley and initially intended to pay for the State's ambitious transit investments are still in effect and that money keeps coming in.

To call the pavement projects "innovative" takes a lot of chutzpah, of which Maryland's Governor has no shortage. Opening left shoulders for traffic is an old trick which congested metro areas use as a last resort in which they trade safety for capacity and force drivers to travel hard against median concrete barriers or cross at least four lanes to find a safe spot on the right shoulder should they experience a break-down. 

Whenever Hogan adds up all his transportation investments ($7 billion by his own counting) he includes projects which got underway long before he came into office, such as the procurement of Baltimore subway cars. This allows him to claim that he channeled $1.7 billion investments to MTA for transit. But even by that accounting, transit expenses represent only 25% of the total highway money, a true expression of a suburban Governor and the highway man on his side who believe that the Maryland Transportation Trust Fund is meant to be a highway fund. Under that logic it was time for balance by widening the Baltimore Beltway after appeasing his Washington area suburban base  with the recently announced additional ("Lexus") toll lanes on the Washington Beltway. 

With his extraordinary highway expansion plans Hogan clearly attempts to build himself out of congestion, a method of dealing with mobility issues that has been widely discredited and called impossible. Even traditionally highway oriented places such as Los Angeles, Phoenix or Houston, turned their back on a past of similarly lopsided investments and pivoted to a truly multi-modal  transportation policy that also includes better land use and demand management.  Nationwide the biggest infrastructure investments are made for rail, ports and airports.

In the top notable infrastructure list, only two projects are roads, the Alaskan Viaduct in Seattle, a project not so much about added capacity but about connecting downtown to the waterfront of Puget Sound and the Tappan Zee bridge reconstruction in New York State. However, there are other large US highway projects including the Gordie Howe International Bridge between Detroit and Canada ($2.1 billion), the Puget Sound Gateway project ($2.8 billion), the I-70 Mountain Corridor ($3.5 billion). 
Never a highway they didn't like
Hogan's announcements are red meat for his suburban and rural base who are suspicious of transit as a toy of urban elites and believe they benefit from wider roadways, even if only to feel the satisfaction of money being thrown their way including for projects such as the route 404 widening on the Eastern Shore which have no real transportation purpose (Because the road has its real choke points in Delaware).

When I had five kids in public schools they were acutely aware of the the never ending string of construction on the Baltimore Beltway and its always tip-top pavement while money for books, trips, supplies or window repairs seemed to be eternally missing at their schools. 20 years later, Hogan keeps that good old tradition alive for my grandchildren. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Due to the holidays and extended travel the Daily and bi-weekly blogs will be a bit less regular  in the coming weeks.
Hogan/Rahn announce the latest highway projects (ABC News)

Gov. Larry Hogan announces $461 million for congestion relief on the Beltway

Related articles on this blog regarding this topic:

The biggest threat to the Eastern Shore isn't water

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