Thursday, September 17, 2009

Support Inclusion of an All-Transit Alternative

By Marc Korman.

Earlier in the summer, the Action Committee for Transit (ACT), an organization I am a member of, released an all-transit alternative to the I-270/US 15 Multi-Modal Corridor project, popularly known as the widening of I-270 and construction of the Corridor Cities Transitway. The proposal has helped spur the debate as to whether we need to expand the highway and how much emphasis the county and state should put on transit.

As Adam wrote last month, Senator Brian Frosh sent a letter to the Governor encouraging him to add the study of the all-transit alternative to the Maryland Department of Transportation’s work on the I-270/US 15 Multi-Modal Corridor Project project. Senator Frosh was joined on the letter by Senators Madaleno, Lenett, and Raskin. Members of the House of Delegates agreed with ACT and Senator Frosh and sent their own letter promoting an all-transit alternative earlier in September, as Adam posted.

No one is better at crunching the numbers than Adam, but in my view his characterization of the Senate letter as “daft” was a poor adjective to use. I suspect all of the elected officials who signed the all-transit alternative letter agree with Adam that the county should be careful about suggesting they are not interested in transportation funding. That is why it is a good thing, not a bad thing, that these letters were sent when they were. Any action on the I-270 corridor study is years away and no decisions have been made yet. If elements of the all-transit alternative are going to be included, those considerations need to be taken into account now.

Adam also raised some concerns about ACT’s methods in promoting an all-transit alternative. As best I can tell, most of Adam’s specific objections could be satisfied if the state would study ACT’s proposal. Whether the transit options could pass the Federal Transit Administration’s Cost Effectiveness Index (CEI) is a question that the study could help answer and I do not believe we should assume the answer is no without further examination. As a side note, the feds’ current overreliance on the CEI could be changed at any time by the Obama Administration and remain consistent with the current law, which includes other factors when considering transit funding. Congress could also reform the law in support of the Administration’s focus on transit.

The question of how much the projects within the all-transit alternative would cost are also ones the state study could answer. ACT’s current numbers are based on work done by the 2001 Transportation Policy Task Force, but updated and more detailed costs could be determined by a state study. Adam rightly points out that Purple Line opponents invested in a third party study, but that was only after trying to convince the state to study their preferred option first.

Adam’s final assessment that ACT should use the downsides to I-270 expansion such as increased pollution and adverse effects to forests and wetlands is a bit baffling to me. First, ACT’s goal is not to simply torpedo the I-270 project. Their goal is to promote transit in the county. Second, we should want opponents of projects to offer meaningful alternatives and not just negative pronouncements of proposals.

If Adam is serious about his concerns, he should support the effort to add an all-transit alternative to the I-270 study. In fact, anyone interested in finding the best solution for I-270 traffic should embrace the study this early in the process.