Commuters' Confusion

October 16, 1990

When it comes to traffic gridlock, Baltimore still is light years away from becoming a Los Angeles or Washington. But the bottlenecks are multiplying and the confusion of commuters is mounting. It is harder and more time-consuming to get from home to work.

Doug Birch's Oct. 7 Sunday Sun story on commuting pains, complete with a list of readers' worst traffic headaches, highlights the need for continuing action in Annapolis to find some answers before congestion harms this region's economic vitality.

It will take a multi-faceted approach -- a wider beltway and more cross-county routes, light-rail lines, bus lines and commuter-rail trains -- to attack this problem. And, yes, it will require additional revenue in the form of a higher tax on gasoline and perhaps increases in auto tags and drivers' licenses to pay for improvements. Fortunately, a growing number of legislators say they are willing to support higher taxes if it leads to better roads and mass transit.

New living and work patterns in the fast-growing suburbs make the task exceptionally difficult. Job centers are scattered in the counties, often far from transportation routes. So are many new housing developments. More wage earners live in one part of suburbia and commute to work in another section of the 'burbs. Yet there are few east-west highway routes connecting these locales -- except for the backed-up beltway.

When the Schaefer administration charts a new list of transportation priorities, it ought to zero in not only on long-range road-building and light-rail routes, but on projects that can offer commuters fast relief.

The stunning popularity of the state's commuter rail lines ought to spur an immediate effort to expand plans for more trains and stations -- and especially more park-and-ride lots. The state also should move quickly to extend service along existing rail routes to communities such as Columbia. And it should invest heavily in an enlarged fleet of buses to encourage suburban mass transit.

Counties, too, must use their considerable powers to alleviate traffic gridlock. Future growth should be concentrated near existing transportation networks. Residential and industrial developments should be funneled toward existing routes. Local officials must have the courage to make unpopular decisions in locating crucial east-west connector roads.

There is no easy answer to the region's commuting conundrum. It is a tough puzzle to solve. One thing is certain, though: Failure by government to act quickly will only make matters worse.

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