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December 2012 eNewsletter

This time last year, the Transportation Alliance finalized the recommendations resulting from our consultant’s study assessing the feasibility of increasing service on the MARC Penn and Camden lines.  We have written extensively in past newsletters about the benefits of expanding MARC service, but at the one-year mark, we revisit the central points of our “Let’s Get to Work” initiative and lay out the 2013 strategy for seeing the recommendations implemented.

Why MARC?

  • The failure of the State Legislature to increase revenue to replenish the State's Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) has left the State with insufficient funds to maintain, let alone expand, the State's aging infrastructure.
  • Even if funding were immediately available, most transportation projects, given their long-term horizon, would do little to improve public transportation options for many years.
  • MARC runs on an existing rail system with significant infrastructure in place.  MARC serves nine of the State's 24 jurisdictions and provides the best opportunity to improve regional public transportation in the next five years.
  • It is the only rail system connecting Greater Baltimore to the D.C. Metro area, providing access to job centers along the corridor.
  • It provides the opportunity to create value for private sector investment in Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), mixed-use communities created around transit stations. Five of the 14 State of Maryland designated TOD sites in Maryland are located at MARC rail stations.
  • There are significant job-rich areas within one-quarter to one mile of most MARC stations in the region. Prioritizing funding for existing systems that provide access to opportunities for jobs, housing, education and services will support economic development and job creation, critical elements for creating a sustainable and high-quality lifestyle and an economically healthy and growing state.

One Year Later…

Over the past year, we have met with local economic development officials, business organizations, business, institutional and philanthropic leaders, non-profit organizations, and developers to discuss our MARC initiative. There has been unanimous agreement and support for our recommendations.

Over the past year, MDOT and MTA have assessed the cost of implementing additional MARC service.  Discussions and negotiations concerning TOD projects have continued, in spite of the fact that five of the 15 state-designated TOD projects have no weekend transit service, an obvious impediment to creating private sector investment and developer interest in TOD.

With widespread support for more MARC service and the State's own interest in expanding service and facilitating TOD projects, why has little progress been made in actually implementing additional service? The answer is money.

The recommendations for expanding MARC service come at a price tag that is a very small percentage of the overall operating budgets of MTA and MDOT.  However, the decision makers with the authority to implement the MARC improvements are preoccupied with a larger issue: the steady depletion of the Transportation Trust Fund over the past decade and the lack of political support for passing a revenue bill that would provide additional and dedicated funding to support expanding and creating the transportation system that is desperately needed to support and sustain true economic vitality throughout the State.

While the Transportation Alliance is keenly aware of the crisis facing the State if funding for transportation continues to go begging in the next General Assembly session, we are also increasingly concerned with the process of deciding which transportation projects should be funded, a process that involves the State as well as local jurisdictions. The current process not only limits the ability to fund expansion of MARC, but in our opinion, also falls short of insuring that transportation projects – both rail and roadway – support job creation and growth, support environmentally sensitive land use planning and principles of smart growth, and provide a catalyst for economic development that connects people to jobs in the Baltimore/Washington D.C. region.

Over the next year, the Transportation Alliance will continue to research and document the unmet demand for expanded MARC service and build a groundswell of support for funding such service.  We will also be looking at the procedures that are an impediment to implementing strategies that could address the growing demand for a transportation system that supports jobs, decreases congestion, and catalyzes economic development.  Questions that we will be asking include:

  1. Does the current system for developing the capital and operating budgets for transportation projects foster inter-jurisdictional collaboration to establish priorities that address issues and opportunities on a regional basis?
  2. Does the current structure of MTA limit the ability to enhance revenue specific to an operating modality, e.g. assessing opportunities to generate revenue for MARC and Commuter Bus operations through charging a small fee for parking, licensing naming rights to stations and selling advertising on MARC trains and at stations, revenue that would be dedicated to enhancing MARC service?
  3. Should the design for expanding or creating new roadways include the capacity to implement a dedicated lane for true Bus Rapid Transit or Bus-only express bus use?

We will keep you informed of our progress.

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