Baltimore area needs updated traffic plans

May 31, 2001|By Greg Smith

WASHINGTON -- Anti-growth advocates are working overtime in Baltimore these days filing lawsuits intended to stop greatly needed transportation improvement projects from moving forward. Sadly, this is nothing new.

National professional no-growth groups like Environmental Defense and the Sierra Club are also taking aim at road projects in Sacramento, Calif.; Atlanta; Houston; St. Louis; Washington, D.C.; Salt Lake City; and San Francisco, among others.

Road improvement projects with major public benefits and support are being attacked for several reasons under the guise of "environmental protection." One is the NIMBY ("Not in my back yard") reaction -- often from people who buy property without reviewing, or who ignore, local transportation and development master plans.

The other, however, is darker. These national anti-growth groups and their local allies are waging an ideological war on the American public's freedom to choose how to travel and where to live and work. Beyond a NIMBY reaction, they foster a BANANA mentality: "Build absolutely nothing, anywhere, near anyone." These groups hold the elitist view that they know what is best for commuters in Baltimore and across America.

Using loopholes in federal environmental laws and regulations, they are smothering much-needed road projects that have passed extensive -- and mandatory -- public and environmental reviews in bureaucratic red tape and courtroom-clogging lawsuits. Their goal is simple: Delay road projects at all costs.

The problem is that delaying road projects hurts and kills people.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, poor road conditions or obsolete road and bridge alignments are a factor in 12,000 road-related deaths each year. That's four times the number of Americans killed in accidental fires and a third more than die annually from asthma and bronchitis combined. How many more people die needlessly because congested road conditions impede emergency vehicles? Those are critical public health issues that these anti-growth groups choose to ignore.

The irony is that their efforts to stop or delay transportation projects in communities across America lead to more local traffic congestion, which further compromises safety and generates additional -- and unnecessary -- air and water pollution.

In order to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality, Baltimore needs a balanced approach to transportation planning that recognizes people's right to choose their means of travel and lifestyle. It should include:

Adding road capacity where appropriate and desired by the majority of local citizens. This is a key to reducing traffic congestion and the unnecessary auto, truck and bus emissions it causes. It is also essential to maintaining time-sensitive ambulance, police and fire emergency response services.

Improving local management of traffic incidents to clear roadways quickly.

Increased use of synchronized traffic signalization and other "smart road" technologies to increase traffic flow.

Improving public transportation systems, including bus, vanpool, car pool and demand response networks.

When it comes to transportation planning, Baltimore commuters should ask: "What will traffic congestion and air quality be in the future if no road capacity is added?" and "What impact will that have on our local economy, productivity, mobility and quality of life with our families?"

Greg Smith is an attorney with the Washington-based American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

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