Monday, August 31, 2009

MTA, SHA "Clarify" Coverage of I-270 (Update)

The heads of the Maryland Transit Administration and the State Highway Administration wrote the following letter to the Baltimore Sun "clarifying" coverage of I-270. What will Baltimore Guy have to say about this?

August 31, 2009

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.

Update: Baltimore Sun reporter Mike Dresser responds.