Governor Martin O’Malley’s key transportation funding bills will be heard by three key committees in the Maryland State Senate and House of Delegates this week in Annapolis. Two identical companion bills, titled the “Maryland Transportation Financing and Infrastructure Investment Act of 2012″ (SB971 and HB1302) are scheduled to come before the Senate Budget & Tax Committee, and the House Ways & Means and Environmental Matters committees, all on March 14th.
Both bills add $613 million in desperately needed funding to restore Maryland’s decimated transportation capital investment program. After going without a significant increase since 1992 in the motor fuel taxes (the primary source of transportation funding in Maryland), critically important projects including the Corridor Cities Transitway, Purple Line, Baltimore Red Line, and dozens of major road and intersection improvements throughout the Washington suburbs and around the state CANNOT BE BUILT unless the legislature approves new funding of at least this magnitude.
The bill also includes a “lock-box” type mechanism to prevent future diversions of transportation dollars to unrelated purposes (to avoid future raids), and a number of other provisions.
The bills would apply Maryland’s 6% sales tax to gasoline sales at the wholesale level, phased in over three years. The cost for the average household comes out to under $30 per year in the first year; about $55 the second; and about $85 when fully implemented. Even at the full price, it is a small price to pay for reducing the $2,300 the average motorist in our state is currently throwing away in wasted gas and added wear-and-tear from sitting in the nation’s worst congestion.
The SMTA Board was briefed recently on two efforts to expand bus-rapid-transit service, also known as “BRT” (or the more appealing acronym “RTV” for “Rapid-Transit-Vehicle”). RTV systems are seen as a cost-effective alternative to either single-occupancy-vehicle automobile travel or more expensive fixed-rail transit systems.
The first is being pursued in Montgomery County by County Executive Ike Leggett’s Transit Implementation Task Force, which is looking at a county-wide system covering as many as 18 routes. The system under consideration would be the region’s first “gold” level RTV system, meaning its vehicles would move in their own dedicated lanes and provide a much higher level of service and shorter travel times than traditional bus systems.
The second is currently under study by metropolitan Washington’s Transportation Planning Board. New modeling data presented this week shows significant traffic relief — a 12% reduction in travel delays — can be achieved through a scaled-down combination of new toll lanes on major highways, conversion of some existing lanes to toll lanes, a network of regional bus-rapid-transit lines using those managed lanes, and more focused development around transit stations. The study also conclusively shows that transit-oriented land-use changes, by themselves, do nothing to relieve congestion, but in combination with new lane capacity and transit service, yield significant positive results. The best part of all, the revenue from these new toll lanes more than pays for the construction and operating costs of the entire system, including the new lanes and RTV transit system. You heard that right, a self-financing project that cuts congestion delays in the entire region by 12%. This ought to be one of THE top priorities for local jurisdictions in the Washington region.
Today the 2030 Group released a new study that was conducted jointly by SMTA and the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, to explore how the region sets transportation priorities and what leading experts in the field feel those priorities should be. The survey was conducted over the past several months through telephone surveys and focus groups with over 40 top transportation professionals from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
1. The nation’s most congested region lacks a well-defined short-list of transportation investments that would have the greatest potential to reduce congestion/improve mobility over the next 20 years.
2. Among transportation professionals, significant consensus exists as to highway and public transit investments that would be the most productive.
3. The top-ten projects are listed in the report, including continued investment in Metro System Maintenance and Operations, New Potomac Bridges, and multi-modal projects to add capacity in several key transportation corridors.
4. The prioritization process should focus heavily on highway and transit investments that do the most to reduce travel times/delays, reduce congestion, and improve transportation network safety and reliability.
5. Meeting the region’s transportation challenges requires not only selecting/advancing the right priorities, but a new process that is more regional and professional and less parochial, political and ideologically driven.
The number-one priority identified by regional experts: Invest in current Metro system operations, core capacity and maintenance. Multi-modal investments to area highways, bridges and new transit lines to better connect regional activity centers and key economic corridors together throughout the region rounded out most of the remaining top-10 priorities, along with better land-use policies to encourage more transit-oriented development.
This independent study was sponsored by the 2030 Group, an association of business and community leaders working towards greater regional cooperation on long-term planning and economic issues.
Washington Post columnist Robert Thompson’s column Maryland Drivers Face Many Mini-Challenges draws a pretty stark contrast between the levels of major investment in congestion relief taking place in Virginia compared to Maryland.
Northern Virginia is currently in construction on two multi-billion-dollar “mega projects” — the Metrorail extension to Dulles Airport and adding new lane capacity to their portion of the Capital Beltway (I-495) with additional high-occupancy-toll (HOT) lanes. Both are being funded with a mix of public and private capital. Additional capacity expansion projects are also either planned or starting construction in the I-95/395 corridor and the I-66 corridor, and construction is nearing completion on the last phase of the Wilson Bridge replacement project.
Maryland is building the ICC. That’s about it right now in terms of major capacity improvements at the regional level. The Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway, the much needed widening of I-270 and portions of our side of the Capital Beltway and the American Legion Bridge all are under “study” but those studies keep dragging on and on with no sign of construction in the near term, and no moves yet to ensure that any of them can be funded.
What we are doing, as Thompson’s column makes clear, is a lot of minor resurfacing and repair projects throughout Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. These are important, make no mistake, but don’t confuse this list of “mini” projects with actual investments to relieve the chronic congestion that plagues our region. For that, just look to Virginia.
This week the University of Maryland announced they have reached agreement with the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) and are no longer opposing the proposed routes for the Purple Line that run right through the College Park campus. Supporters of the Purple Line may take heart in this welcome development, which removes one of the last major sticking points in determining the alignment between Bethesda and New Carrollton for this nearly $2 billion light-rail transit project.
The University of Maryland deserves credit for recognizing the value of direct access to a major regional transit line, which means thousands of students from Montgomery County will have another option to get there other than wasting their time sitting on the Beltway. This is especially good news for evening students at University of Maryland University College.
The original Green Line Metro station was also supposed to be located on the College Park campus, but in one of the more short-sighted decisions in our local transportation history, it was placed about a mile away, meaning hardly anyone found it convenient enough to use. Now, with the Purple Line alignment coming directly onto the campus, perhaps MTA could look into relocating the Green Line station as well so there is one central access and transfer point.
The Purple Line is now one step closer as a result of this wise decision.
The preliminary report on Montgomery County’s proposed Bus-Rapid-Transit (BRT) study is posted on-line, but in a recent email from the County, it was disclosed that due to a traffic model coding error, some of the results will need to be recalculated.
The net effect was that ridership figures across much of the system were overstated. County officials noted that the cost figures would likely be revised downward as well, as fewer BRT vehicles would be needed once the lower ridership numbers were adopted.
Read the preliminary report here.
This week the Montgomery County Council was briefed on the summary findings of a new report, due to be released soon, on the feasibility of building a new countywide rapid-transit system, using bus-rapid-transit (BRT) technology.
The proposed system would divert an estimated 85,000 drivers per day off existing roads, and cost roughly $2.5 billion to build, and another $144 to $173 million annually to operate.
Look for more detailed coverage here when the entire report is released. See our News Page for recent coverage in the Gazette.
Last month, the Rockville City Council abruptly reversed itself on the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT), asking the State of Maryland to re-route the CCT alignment away from King Farm, one of the major communities it was designed to serve. The State is now in the final stages of identifying it’s “Preferred Local Alternative” for the long-awaited transit line extending from Shady Grove Metro Station north to Clarksburg. Supporters of the CCT are asking the State to continue with current plans and retain the alignment through King Farm, which was designed around the CCT as a “transit-oriented development” (or TOD) from its inception, with the full support of the City. Without the CCT on the alignment that was envisioned in County master plans, the fear is that traffic conditions on surrounding roads, access to jobs and housing for King Farm residents and neighbors, and King Farm property values would all be negatively impacted.
The CCT will add tremendous value to King Farm by providing convenient transit access to destinations up and down the heavily traveled I-270 corridor, and it was a big part of the reason King Farm is there at all. This is what transit-oriented suburban development was supposed to be all about. Rockville would be better served by retaining the current alignment and the more sustainable development patterns that can be achieved through transit-oriented development, in King Farm and elsewhere.
After 56 years of study and debate, the first segment of the Inter County Connector (ICC) is now open and traffic on opening day exceeded expectations, with some 36,500 vehicles test-driving the first major new limited-access highway built in Montgomery County since 1967 on day one. The first completed segment of the ICC runs from I-370 near Shady Grove Road across Georgia Avenue, and ends at a temporary exit onto Norbeck Road just east of Georgia Avenue.
When completed, the ICC will connect two of Maryland’s key employment corridors and reduce travel times between I-270 and I-95 by roughly half. The time savings are already apparent. In my first real trip on the ICC, other than a ceremonial drive just for the fun of it on opening day, I used the ICC to get from Rockville Pike near Shady Grove Road to a meeting in Olney. This trip from Shady Grove Road to Georgia Avenue used to take about 30-35 minutes, depending upon traffic and lights, but this time it took about 7 minutes. Imagine how much more accessible the two counties spanned by the ICC will be, from east to west, when the entire project is complete. The full ICC should be open in the next year.
It will be interesting to see, once the whole project is complete and the tolls are operational, how many people use it on a daily basis. With just the first segment open, it is much too early to draw any conclusions. However, if it performs as the traffic models indicate, there will be significant traffic diverted off crowded local roads and dramatic improvements in congestion levels at dozens of intersections across this highly traveled corridor. While other recent projects have performed exactly as the models predicted (Montrose Parkway and the Wilson Bridge come to mind), we shall all have to wait and see if the ICC does the same.
For more information, see local coverage on Patch.com here.