Greater Baltimore Committee WYPR radio commentary (2008)
Transit oriented development is a great idea. The concept is to build residential, office, retail, and entertainment facilities around mass transit stations. The benefits are in coupling economic growth with a reduction in traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.
The Maryland Department of Transportation has several projects in the pipeline. The one-billion-dollar Owings Mills Town Center will include more than a million square feet of office space, a public library and a community college. In Baltimore, the City’s State Center plans to connect the nine adjacent neighborhoods to the light rail, metro, Amtrak and MARC lines.
But before we get too optimistic about these projects, though, let’s keep in mind that Baltimore and Maryland lack one very important component: a mature transportation infrastructure. For transit oriented development to be successful, it has to complement an established system that provides convenient travel for its commuters and residents.
Unfortunately, that kind of transit system doesn’t exist in the Baltimore area.
To make matters worse, the Maryland Senate Budget & Taxation Committee is looking at replacing the ill-conceived computer services tax with a new bill that removes $50 million from the state’s Transportation Trust Fund – money that is critical to future transportation projects.
At the federal level, funding for transportation is also waning. The recent Bush administration’s short-sighted decision to back away from $900 million in funding for the Dulles Metro Rail project signals that our federal government doesn’t see the nation’s failing transportation system as a top priority.
It’s hard for the business community to support ventures like the Owings Mills Town Center and Baltimore City State Center, when we’ve seen so little progress on the most elementary transportation concerns like integrating our region’s only two rail transit lines.
The city and state need to commit more time and money to addressing Maryland’s basic transportation needs. Only then can they expect to see major involvement and investment by the private sector in these “vanity” concepts.
Transit oriented development can’t be truly effective until Baltimore has a transit system capable of supporting it. In transportation and development, the city and state should stop putting the proverbial “cart before the horse.”