In these hyper-partisan times, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan likes to position himself as a different kind of Republican, one who sees both sides of issues and unites political factions. Regarding roads and public transportation, this is a false portrait. Hogan’s $9 billion (or much, much more) proposed expansion of the Capital Beltway and I-270 does not consider the enormous costs to the environment, including increased climate-changing carbon emissions, worsening of local air quality, and added waste water runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.
Hogan is planning to add new lanes to I-270 and part of the BW Parkway, and plans to partially privatize the roads and toll drivers using these new “express lanes” in an attempt to defray some of the expense.
Officially, the state is considering no-build, rail, and bus service options as it studies how to move forward, but Hogan seems set on expanding highways. DW Rowlands writes for GGWash: “The criteria for analyzing options — such as ability to evacuate the region and benefitting trucks as well as commuters — seem slanted toward highway-widening options, in particular express toll lanes.” State officials seem to be dodging questions about what would be razed if the roads are expanded, as it seems they will be.
At the start of his governorship, Hogan pulled support from two key light rail projects, the Purple Line in the DC suburbs and the Red Line in Baltimore. After a political fight, most of the Purple Line funding was restored, yet the Red Line was cancelled, leaving the poorest Baltimore neighborhoods isolated. Hogan also blocked a clean air regulation that would have lessened smog and likely have helped kids with asthma in Baltimore.
Perhaps Hogan has since changed, becoming convinced by his role as a governor of the need to do more to fight against climate change and for clean air? His rhetoric suggests this, but his road-widening plan says the opposite.
Shockingly, the environmental screening criteria for the Hogan transportation plan do not include impact on climate change or air pollution in the first round. They are restricted to property considerations (three categories) and wetlands and waters (one category). By the time climate change and air pollution are considered, the study will likely have eliminated the public transit options, currently limited to two out of 15 options being studied.
Considering that Hogan signed a law promising to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030 and agreed to join a coalition supporting the Paris Climate Treaty, it’s unconscionable that he should advance a plan guaranteed to substantially add to climate change emissions. Our summer of heat waves, forest fires, and flooding is only a peek at a frightening future.
Transportation is now the leading cause of climate change emissions in the US, and it will be impossible to meet Maryland’s goals without a strong commitment to public transit — and not to more cars and traffic.
The Hogan transportation plan would also generate more local air pollution that causes asthma, strokes, heart attacks, and other health problems. Some 8.4% of Marylanders suffered from asthma in 2010, and climate change will only increase this, as will more automobile emissions, which put ozone into the air we breathe.
One thing that the Hogan transportation plan does guarantee is increased sprawl. Multiple studies have shown that road widening reduces congestion only temporarily, but within a few years causes people to drive more, leading to construction of a widening circle of developments such as strip malls and surface parking lots.
The transportation plan also undercuts Hogan’s stated goal of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. Hogan blames neighboring states for adding to trash and pollution that end up in the Bay, but then proposes a plan that would do the same.
Unfortunately, the Hogan transportation plan is moving forward with very little input from the state legislature, since it would be carried out by private companies, using a budget mechanism that would bypass the legislature.
The sad thing is that multiple transit alternatives exist that are better for mobility — and far better for the environment — than the proposed road widening. We need to upgrade Metro to provide all eight-car trains. We need to fund the MARC Growth and Investment Plan that has been on the books since 2007, which would provide all-day and weekend service for all lines. We should also expand the Purple Line so that it eventually circles Washington, DC and connects all Metro lines. Finally, we should support the Montgomery County Bus Rapid Transit plan and expand it to other jurisdictions.
As a progressive state integrally tied to the capital of the most powerful country on earth, Maryland’s actions have a huge symbolic value. Where Maryland goes, others will follow. We need to be leaders on climate change. The Hogan transportation plan should be scrapped and replaced with the public transit needed for a sustainable future.