Since becoming state transportation secretary in 2003, Robert L. Flanagan has been perhaps the most high-profile member of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s Cabinet - most recently as the administration's point man in the controversial restructuring of Baltimore-area bus service.
Flanagan has dealt with such inherited issues as improving what was regarded as a "dysfunctional" transit system for serving the disabled and dealing with a botched paving job on the Bay Bridge, as well as winning approval of the administration's plan to build the Intercounty Connector in the Washington suburbs.
Over the coming years, especially if Ehrlich is re-elected, Flanagan could play a pivotal role in shaping Baltimore's transit future. He would be the one making a recommendation to the governor on whether the region's proposed east-west Red Line would be a light rail system or bus rapid transit - a modernized bus system using dedicated roadways and tunnels for portions of its route. (Flanagan has already ruled out a conventional heavy rail subway.)
Could you name the three things your department has accomplished over the past three years that you're most proud of and that you believe make a case for the governor's re-election?
A very important priority of the governor was improving paratransit service. When you're talking about vulnerable people being left in the freezing cold or dangerous heat, that was a problem that had occurred for a decade before we fixed it. There is more improvement that we need to make, but the settlement we reached with the [Maryland] Disability Law Center was made possible because they recognized the improvements.
When we came into office we issued the notice to proceed on the new [Southwest] terminal at the airport. That was delivered on time, on budget. I just invite everybody to just take a look at what a wonderful facility that is for Maryland.
The Baltimore bus system had not been comprehensively reviewed for 35 years as the face of the city had changed dramatically, as had the needs of our customers. People oftentimes are uncomfortable with change, but everybody recognized that that change was long overdue.
Whenever the topic of the Red Line comes up, you seem to be talking up bus rapid transit. Does this mean that if you get another term that a rail solution for the Red Line is a dead letter?
There is a lot of misinformed and intellectually dishonest discussion of building a subway - something that would cost on the order of $2.6 billion. The federal government would not support that because it is not cost-effective.
What I've told the [Maryland Transit Administration] staff is, I want them to plan the very best light rail that is possible for the Red Line. I also want them to plan the very best bus rapid transit that is possible. Then, at the end of the day, we'll compare the two and make a decision.
What I have fought against is sort of an emotional bias toward light rail by people who haven't really fully evaluated the alternatives.
What I've said is, a lot of people just don't understand where bus technology is going with hybrid-electric buses that are quiet, very user-friendly and have a flexibility to use existing roadways.
With completion of a final environmental impact study for the Intercounty Connector, you've cleared an important milestone for that project. Is the ICC inevitable at this point, or are there still important obstacles to be cleared?
Certainly the opponents of the ICC have failed to stop it, because the public supports it by an overwhelming majority. Having lost [in] the democratic process, they've been planning since the governor was elected with lawyers who have been working since Day One to file lawsuits. The question is, will the democratic process be overturned by a judge? I think not.
One of the most important tests you've faced is the paving problem that arose on the Bay Bridge in 2004, causing monumental traffic tie-ups. That project has been on hold, but can motorists expect to see a new round of backups after this year?
When we go to Phase Two we will be using a new technique called full-depth deck replacement, which will allow us to go under the bridge in the middle of the night, replace a section of the deck and reopen that lane the next morning. So the continuous lane closures we had in Phase One will not be necessary.
The Ehrlich administration in effect settled for a little more than half a loaf when it pushed through its transportation revenue package in 2004. Do you expect to seek additional revenue for the Transportation Trust Fund after 2006?
The piece of the pie that we did not get - namely the surcharge on bad drivers - is something we are interested in trying again. Beyond that, I think it's important to maintain a healthy transportation trust fund, but at this point I wouldn't want to prejudge the issue.