Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Two-Seventy Two-Step

Some people favor widening I-270 as one component of dealing with the corridor’s infamous state of gridlock. Other people oppose widening and would like to see an all-transit solution. Those would seem to be diametrically opposed views, right?

Not if you’re in politics!

On July 29, a group of state legislators signed a letter to the State Highway Administration calling for both I-270 widening and a light rail Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT). On I-270, the letter said:

Additionally, we support two Express Toll Lanes (ETLs), as a component of this project, to help reduce congestion on I-270. We also think that the Montgomery County Planning Board's recommendation of reversible lanes is worth further exploration, as it could alleviate traffic congestion while mitigating negative environmental impacts. These ETLs should be combined with general-purpose lanes without tolls, so that these new transportation facilities will be financed in large part by private investments.
On September 8, a group of state legislators signed a different letter calling for study of an all-transit alternative to road widening. The letter said in part:

The large transportation investments proposed along I-270 will take years to implement, and they will shape the development of the corridor for decades. There is time to decide carefully and wisely. We request that you ask MDOT to add an all-transit alternative to this study. After a complete range of options is evaluated, policy-makers and the public will be able to choose the solutions that are best for our communities, our economy, and our environment.
Five Delegates signed both letters: Kathleen Dumais (D-15), Craig Rice (D-15), Jim Gilchrist (D-17), Charles Barkley (D-39) and Kirill Reznik (D-39). We asked them how they could call for road widening plus transit and then – just two months later – call for nothing but transit. Here are the responses we received:

Delegate Kathleen Dumais

With reference to your specific question, I do not think that the two letters I signed are inconsistent. All options should be explored. I strongly support the CCT and studying Express Toll Lanes for I-270.
In a second email, Delegate Dumais stated:

As I indicated in my previous E-mail, I do not think the letters are inconsistent. I believe all options should be reviewed -- without excluding one or the other. The truth of the matter is that a solution to the congestion should include both road improvements and transit.
Delegate Craig Rice

I went back and read both letters again and don’t believe they contradict each other. In Senator Garagiola’s letter the point was clear that the CCT was our top priority and in Chairman Hixson's letter it says we want them to look at a transit alternative. I have always been of the position that the CCT is our number one priority and as far as other transit needs, everything needs to be considered.
Delegate Kirill Reznik

In response to the concern over my having signed two letters to the Governor, one from Senator Garagiola and one from Delegate Hixson, I wanted to provide a response.

I do not believe that signing onto both letters was a contradiction. I have always advocated for and will continue to advocate for the Corridor Cities Transitway. It is imperative that mass transit is extended into Germantown and points north and long term, sustainable solutions are found to our ever growing need to travel and commute between Washington, DC, Montgomery and Frederick counties, and beyond.

That being said, I do not believe that any single solution will be satisfactory in dealing with traffic, and all reasonable options need to be explored. I also do not believe that a continued effort to explore other options should be an excuse for delay and inaction on the Multi-Modal Corridor Study.
First, let’s credit Delegates Dumais, Rice and Reznik for being willing to discuss this issue on the record. They have not joined Delegates Barkley and Gilchrist in whatever undisclosed location they are hiding.

But there is a real failure of logic here. The I-270 letter was an unambiguous statement of support for road widening as well as a light rail CCT. In their responses, Delegates Rice and Reznik omit any reference to their previous support of extra road lanes and proclaim only their fealty to transit. It is as if they never signed the first letter, which called for both. (Delegate Saqib Ali, on the other hand, withdrew his signature from the widening letter when he realized that it indeed called for widening.) Delegate Dumais reiterates her support of road widening while saying “all options should be reviewed.”

The problem is that review is costly. In planning money alone, the state has allocated $38 million for Baltimore’s Red Line, $36 million for the Purple Line, $9 million for the CCT and $17 million for I-270. Every additional project sent to study will cost millions – and probably tens of millions – more from a Transportation Trust Fund that is nearly broke. For a person who has never wanted more road lanes like Senator Brian Frosh (D-16), advocating use of that funding for extra transit projects is a logical and consistent position. But why would anyone who has already declared their support for road widening – as have the five Delegates above – advocate for spending tens of millions of dollars to study an all-transit plan that explicitly excludes the option that they have already picked?

Saying that you want both road widening and all-transit is like saying that you root for the NFL team that wears Redskins helmets and Cowboys uniforms. If football fans know better, shouldn’t our elected leaders?