Readers Respond

August 31, 2009

Widening of I-270 is just one option among many

The study of transit and highway improvements to the I-270 corridor has recently attracted some media attention. However, the coverage demands clarification. The state is conducting a long-range planning study that includes a variety of transportation options for the I-270 corridor; we haven't reached the point where a specific proposal will advance and others will retreat. With any comprehensive technical study, some options may prove viable in the future, while others may not. This exercise is comparable to other highway, transit and rail studies under way in regions throughout Maryland. It is important to put a range of planning concepts on the table for consideration, if we aim to address the state's serious transportation challenges.

Unfortunately, certain reports have suggested the state is simply proposing to widen the highway lanes along I-270. This suggestion does not serve the public well when, in fact, there are actually a variety of transit and highway options being examined. Transit alternatives include the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT), a rapid bus or light rail system between Shady Grove and Clarksburg. The cost of the CCT ranges from $450 million to $777 million. Park and Ride improvements and improved bus service also are under study. Highway alternatives range from interchange improvements costing up to $500 million to construction of Express Toll Lanes that could potentially reach into the billions of dollars.

Contrary to the premise promoted by some, there is no multibillion-dollar decision pending. The displacement of residents is not imminent, inevitable or desired. Decisions whether to actually construct any of the alternatives are years, if not decades, away. Implementation of any alternatives would require the approval of local and regional governmental authorities and a full environmental review by regulatory agencies.

The reality is that, given the current economic environment, the state must concentrate on funding its existing transportation projects with the scarce resources available. However, while we may be financially constrained today, we must continue to plan so that every region of the state is prepared for tomorrow.

Paul J. Wiedefeld and Neil J. Pedersen The writers are administrators of, respectively, the Maryland Transit Administration and the State Highway Administration.

Cost of defensive medicine is indeed significant

Jay Hancock in his article regarding health care malpractice costs ("Health care myths obscure the much tougher decisions," Aug. 6) cites information from the Congressional Budget Office that "malpractice costs make up only 2 percent of health care spending" and WellPoint Insurance, which says litigation and defensive medicine "are not considered a significant recent significant factor in the overall growth of health care spending."

Well, I guess it depends on who you talk to.

In a Massachusetts Medical Society survey of 900 doctors published last November, 83 percent of Bay State physicians cited the fear of being sued in their decisions to practice defensive medicine. According to the doctors anonymously surveyed, on average, 18 percent to 28 percent of tests, procedures, referrals and consultations and 13 percent of hospitalizations were ordered to avoid lawsuits. All of this adds at least $1.4 billion to annual health care costs in Massachusetts alone, and national estimates range as high as $200 billion.

A 2006 Harvard School of Public Health study found that four out of every 10 medical malpractice lawsuits filed in America each year were "without merit." Nonetheless, defending against such lawsuits imposes costs on doctors, hospitals and insurers that invariably are passed on to health care consumers. Beyond the obvious costs of litigation, more subtle costs related to the practice of "defensive medicine" are contributing to runaway health care inflation.

Texas has joined 24 other states in enacting reforms that include a reasonable limit on noneconomic damages for pain and suffering of up to $750,000 per incident. This reform does not limit compensatory awards for calculable lost wages and medical expenses, but it does balance the interests of patients and care providers while helping to ensure access to necessary care. Now, according to Gov. Rick Perry, doctors' insurance rates have declined by an average of 27 percent while the "number of doctors applying to practice medicine in Texas has skyrocketed by 57 percent. In ... just the first five years after reforms passed, 14,498 doctors either returned to practice in Texas or began practicing here for the first time."

Not significant?!

Benedict Frederick Jr., Pasadena

Why was robber on streets?

After reading the article, "Fed up businesses take law (and bat) into own hands" (Aug. 27), I had to wonder why a person who committed multiple criminal acts and was a drug user was let go, able to perpetrate again.

Anyone who commits a crime should be in jail. Anyone on drugs should get off of them. Maybe the person is manic-depressive and needs doctor-prescribed medication. The robber said: "Thank God" when caught. That should have meant something to the judge.

Why don't we make Baltimore Circuit Judge John Addison Howard serve time in jail, with Mark Lomax, and allow Mr. Lomax to rob the judge multiple times. Then maybe he'll "get it."

Lynne Selznick, Baltimore

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