Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Politics and Policy With Anthony Brown, Part Two

By Marc Korman.

After discussing the budget and education, Lieutenant Governor Brown turned to the topic of transportation. Cavan Wilk from Greater Greater Washington took the lead in questioning Brown on the issues, since it is his area of expertise.

Cavan Wilk, Anthony Brown and Press Secretary Mike Raia.

As discussed last time, Brown has a few areas the Governor has given him the lead on. Outside of the BRAC Subcabinet, those issues are not really transportation related. But the Lieutenant Governor was previously a land use and zoning attorney and dove right into some difficult transportation questions.

Brown said a gas tax increase was off the table in 2010, with Marylanders already pinched by salary cuts, unemployment, and other effects of the recession. But Brown did discuss how existing transportation revenues could be used better, with a particular emphasis on mass transit. He acknowledged that finding the right mix of transit versus roads was difficult, and even within each area there were many questions: rail or bus; maintenance of old roads or bridges or construction of new ones; and so on. Brown identified three Administration priorities for transportation: The Purple Line, the Red Line, and the BRAC Intersection program. Every other project is about finishing, fixing, or maintaining, not starting anything new. Brown was not yet up to speed on proposals to expand 270 and/or construct the Corridor Cities Transitway.

Brown also highlighted the Administration’s MARC train plans. The plan goals are ambitious, but Brown took umbrage at the idea that instead of improving MARC, the system was actually moving in the other direction due to the cuts enacted in 2008 that reduced service and effectively increased fares by eliminating certain multi-ride passes. The Lieutenant Governor talked about short term advances that had occurred, including new trains (which was happening prior to the Administration’s plans), improving parking, and renovating stations and platforms. He also said discussions were ongoing with CSX to help address freight traffic issues. As readers of the blog know, two of the MARC train lines are owned by CSX, who control dispatching on the lines. The state is continuing its efforts to coordinate scheduling better with freight trains. But Brown was more passionate talking about long term MARC train plans, including serving new locations. Those plans are more grandiose and nice ideas, but seem fantastical when track switches and signals are malfunctioning on an almost daily basis.

Wilk also kept after Brown about his role in the BRAC Subcabinet and how to address the increased traffic that will be caused by the newly consolidated Walter Reed at Bethesda Naval Medical Center. Brown differentiated Bethesda from other military installations benefiting from BRAC, due to its more urban location. But he also emphasized that the intersections around Bethesda Naval were failing independent of any increased BRAC traffic, so addressing Wisconsin, Jones Bridge, Connecticut, and adjacent roads would be necessary whether Walter Reed moved to Bethesda or not. BRAC just brought more attention to an existing need.

Brown conceptually agreed that expanding roads would, in the long term, just lead to more cars filling those lanes. But he was not prepared to embrace a specific and aggressive transit alternative. He said he has been working with Congressman Van Hollen on some type of transit improvement, but whether that would be a pedestrian bridge, an underground tunnel, a new entrance to the Medical Center Metro Station on the east side of Wisconsin, or other innovative approaches such as higher subsidies for employees to ride instead of drive was not yet known. With the expanded facility set for full operation in 2011, Brown and Van Hollen will need to act much quicker if they hope to affect transportation around the project.