On public transportation, maglev and a better Beltway

A CONVERSATION WITH: John D. Porcari

April 30, 2002

Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari recently spoke with Richard C. Gross, editor of the Opinion

Commentary page, at the offices of The Sun about transportation issues affecting the Baltimore area.

Q: How do you improve the interaction of different types of public transportation in the Baltimore area to attract more passengers?

A: First you make it physically easier to get between the systems. In some cases, that may be sidewalks, elevators or escalators. You also make it easier for our traveling public to understand how to use this system. We have a trip scheduler system going on the MTA [Maryland Transit Administration] Web page in the next couple of months that will let you schedule a trip. You tell it where you are leaving from, where you are trying to get to and you will be able to look at bus, rail - where the transfer points are.

Q: If a train or light rail comes to a stop at a station, how do you connect if there's nothing to connect to?

A: In the short term, adding bus service is one of the best ways to get that connectivity because we can directly connect people with jobs. We're running reverse commute buses, for example, from the center of Baltimore out to Harford County to major employment centers, out to Howard County, to Columbia, because we have employers out there that are just begging for employees. So it's not just commuters coming into town. We're bringing employees out to job opportunities.

Q: Is it wiser to spend money on public transportation or building more highways?

A: What we're trying to do is add capacity and support Smart Growth as cost efficiently as we can. The answer can be different in different circumstances.

In many of our most crowded urban areas, you simply can't add highway capacity at any price. So transit is our major emphasis. But we're also working with major employers on telecommute, on car pooling and van pooling. We are starting new HOV [high occupancy vehicle] lanes on parts of the state highway network. Route 50 is one example.

Q: There are several communities in the Baltimore area that are opposed to a maglev line. Is it worth going ahead with maglev?

A: This is a very important phase of the study, where we are out meeting with communities, getting input, answering questions. Every transportation project ... has its obstacles. What we found is the projects that go forward are [those on which] we've built a consensus with the community. They understand and have a joint goal on that transportation project, and we make sure we accommodate the needs and the wishes of the community.

We clearly are just in the beginning phases on maglev, so it is too early to tell what the next steps are. But it is very important that we have this dialogue with the community now.

Q: Would you ignore the opposition?

A: We certainly don't ignore the opposition.

A transportation network that functions is one that our citizens believe in and one that they strongly support. The days are long gone when a transportation project of any kind is jammed down the throats of the community.

Q: What's in store for traffic congestion on the Baltimore Beltway?

A: We are continuing to work on the Baltimore Beltway. We have almost $400 million of both short- and long-term work that we're doing. We believe that it will significantly help the a.m. and p.m. commute.

But simply working on the Baltimore Beltway by itself is not going to get us where we need to be. Which is why we have this goal of doubling transit ridership by the year 2020. We're well on our way toward it.

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