A greener future

November 26, 2007

The year 2035 might seem like a long way off, but the prospect that Baltimore may only get one new transit line - the long-promised Red Line from Woodlawn to Bayview - between now and then makes it seem suddenly much closer. At least that's a concern raised by the actions of the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board, which is set tomorrow to adopt a long-term transportation plan that's as notable for what it lacks as for what it includes.

Does anyone recall Baltimore's Green Line? That's the proposal to extend transit service from the existing subway stop at Johns Hopkins Hospital northeast to Morgan State University and ultimately to White Marsh. The Maryland Department of Transportation had previously identified it for future funding and so has Baltimore's regional rail plan.

But the transportation board has chosen not to include it in its "Outlook 2035," the blueprint for regional transportation planning for the next 28 years. It suggests that Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, the group's chair, as well as his fellow elected leaders in the region are not fully committed to transit.

Make no mistake, the east-west Red Line should be Baltimore's top transit priority. It's vital to connect the western suburbs, including the Social Security Administration complex, to downtown Baltimore, Fells Point and the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center campus. It will complement the city's existing transit lines, adding perhaps 40,000 riders to the system.

But the 12-mile Red Line is expected to be under construction within the next six years. What happens during the following 22? The transportation board would have us believe nothing (aside from upgrades to MARC commuter train lines), and that's not acceptable.

Granted, the "Outlook" report had to factor in financial constraints, and there are legitimate highway needs to be addressed. Truck traffic alone is expected to double by 2030 and overall vehicle miles traveled to increase by a third. But how can commuters opt for transit if there's no convenient transit alternative available to them?

Rising energy costs and environmental concerns have tilted the balance away from the traditional solution of building more and wider highways and toward energy-efficient transit. Across the country, transit ridership is increasing and communities are electing to invest more in bus and rail lines.

Will Baltimore need only one additional transit line over the next quarter-century? The transportation board report would have us believe it - and that's contrary not only to the region's best interests but also to the stated pro-transit positions of most of the region's elected officials.

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