Transportation politics

Consensus: New committee formed to set priorities for Baltimore regional projects.

June 23, 2000

IF THE game plan behind the Metropolitan Planning Organization's new strategy works, the D.C. suburbs won't be hogging state transportation dollars as they did last session.

Next year, for the first time in recent memory, the Baltimore region's elected leaders will present the General Assembly with a list of regional transportation projects -- ranked in order of importance.

This effort demonstrates how far local officials have come in recognizing the importance of regional cooperation.

Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger will lead the effort through his position as chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

That's a big deal, because up until now, the MPO has been notoriously ineffective. Despite changing its name more times than a teen-ager switches hair styles, the MPO never unified the six Baltimore-area local governments on transportation issues.

By appointing a committee headed by former state Transportation Secretary William K. Hellman, Mr. Ruppersberger hopes to reverse the fortunes of both the MPO and the Baltimore area.

Last year, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley tried to boost city transit projects alone in Annapolis. He got very little for his efforts. The Washington area, by contrast, won big-dollar mass transit commitments -- thanks in large part to strong cooperation among jurisdictions.

Mr. Hellman will try this year to fashion a consensus from representatives of the Baltimore-area counties, and from Annapolis and Baltimore.

The group will consider all short-term transportation projects roads, mass transit, the port of Baltimore and BWI -- and make a united pitch for the projects that best serve the entire region.

It's an approach that always made good sense. Now we'll get to see how effective it can really be.

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