Cars causing headache Planners must cut region's smog

September 09, 1992|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

If you are among the thousands of Howard County residents who hold a job outside the county and drive by yourself to work, you're part of a problem for county and state transportation planners.

As they struggle to devise ways to meet a federal mandate to clean up the Baltimore region's smoggy air by 2005, they are finding their most daunting problem is the huge numbers of people who rely on cars to get to work. County planners say a majority of the county's labor force of 113,000 workers commute by car -- and about 64 percent, or more than 72,000, of them commute outside the county

The primary goal of the planners: get county residents out of their cars and into buses, trains and car pools.

"We have to plan for moving people rather than cars," says Carl Balser, chief of Comprehensive and Transportation Planning for Howard County.

But because so many county residents use their cars to commute to jobs outside the county -- roughly two-thirds of all Howard residents who work drive their cars to their jobs -- attaining that goal is going to be tough.

Still, with a mandate to clean up smog under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 for the Baltimore region, which has the fourth highest level of smog in the nation, county and state transportation planners must forge ahead to devise ways to make mass transit alternatives more palatable and accessible to county residents.

They also are being impelled to improve mass transit use by several other federal and state mandates. They include the state Department of the Environment's recent proposal to require employers of more than 100 workers to develop ways to reduce the number of people making car trips to work alone, and the state Planning Act of 1992, which will require planners to weigh whether a proposed development will require building or improving major roads.

Still it's the Clean Air Act Amendments that are the most compelling force behind the effort to develop a vastly improved, region-wide mass transit plan.

Expanding and improving mass transit is seen as a key element of reducing smog in the Baltimore zone, which includes Howard County, because more than half of all carbon dioxide emissions in the area come from automobiles, says Harvey S. Bloom acting director of the transportation planning division for the Baltimore Metropolitan Council. The council coordinates regional planning among the city and surrounding counties.

For county and state transportation planners the task is daunting, considering these two realities:

Howard County residents jam county roads to drive to jobs outside the county, mostly in or near Baltimore and Washington. Exacerbating that flood of cars are thousands of other commuters who don't live in Howard but who use county highways, particularly Interstates 95 and 70 and U.S 29.

County planners won't know exactly how many motorists travel through Howard on their way to work until new census data on commuting patterns is released this fall. Preliminary data shows about 33,500 commuters travel through the county every day, the county planning office says.

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