Transportation Policy in Maryland: Managing Decline is Not Enough

With the continuing deterioration in traffic congestion and related productivity in Maryland, the present policy approaches might be characterized as geared toward "managing decline." There is an assumption in some quarters that progress is impossible. At the same time, statewide figures indicate that the huge investments in transit have not been accompanied by any material diversion of travel away from single-occupant automobiles.

Texas research, however, demonstrates that decline is not inevitable. The Texas Governor’s Business Council (GBC) estimated that traffic congestion (measured the hours of peak period delay in urban areas)41 would double over the next 25 years under current plans. By focusing the attention of policy on traffic congestion minimization, GBC showed that traffic congestion in the Texas urban areas could be reduced by more than one-quarter, even with the much higher than average population growth that is expected in the state.42

Further, the continuing growth of single-occupant automobile use guarantees that traffic volumes and traffic congestion will continue to increase strongly. The unfortunate but indisputable fact is that large transit investments can make little or no difference in this equation, as projections in Baltimore’s Transportation Outlook: 2035 clearly indicate.

Moreover, there are strong objections to policies that provide sufficient road capacity to meet rising demand on environmental grounds. The reality is, however, that despite policies that have provided insufficient capacity improvement, the demand for automobile use, especially by single-occupant commuters, has increased. There is no reason to believe that this will change.43

This means that traffic congestion will continue to worsen, travel speeds will decline and there will be more "stop and go" traffic. These kinds of traffic conditions materially retard fuel efficiency and, as a result, increase emissions of greenhouse gas emissions (because fuel efficiency declines as traffic congestion increases).

There is an imperative to provide sufficient roadway capacity so that the higher automobile demand forecast in regional transportation plans can be accommodated, while minimizing environmental impacts. Finally, there are substantial improvements on the horizon in automobile technology that are projected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the same time that automobile demand continues its expected increases.44

Nonetheless, Maryland should adopt a policy focus that seeks to maximize mobility, while minimizing travel times. The starting point would be to develop urban access indicators45 to assist in better informing future decisions. Given the strong association between mobility, economic growth and poverty alleviation, access-based performance indicators should be developed for use at the state and regional planning levels. These indicators would gage the performance of the transportation system based upon the quality of access from residences and to employment.

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