As the current Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated, multiple functioning transportation systems are important elements that help keep our state operating for essential workers, are key to environmental justice, and oil our machinery of democracy. The League has long advocated for systems of transportation that address our concerns of protecting the environment and preserving natural resources while encouraging the coordination of governments at multiple levels all with emphasis on equity among populations.
Issues of transportation are woven throughout action of LWVMD. Transportation is not just about cars, buses, trains, trucks, pedestrians and bikes. It is about voting and how people get to polls to cast their ballots, how lines are drawn for redistricting, where houses are built and the land that is used for development, how money is spent for transportation and if funds from the trust fund are involved, whether all portions of our population are given equitable access to our economy, educational opportunities, healthcare, and of course the impact on our environment.
Maryland Transit Administration – Funding has been pre-filed in both the House and Senate. MTA funding impacts specifically the Baltimore area plus many other parts of the state and advocacy will be continued as in past years. This bill, and others that may be filed, encompass many aspects of equity and accessibility to the greater economy. Of the 50 largest transit agencies in the country, Baltimore is the only area that is governed and operated by a state agency without a board of directors.
The Public Private Partnership agreement to expand I-495, the American Legion Bridge, and I-270 has been hotly contested. LWVMD advocated in the past for a number of bills that would add oversight, better define agreements, or create equal treatment around the state, but all outcomes of advocacy would promote a cleaner environment. Decisions about this very large project are made at the state level and the legislature has little input, but several bills have been put forward to increase accountability. I-495 and I270 Public-Private Partnership - Partnership Agreement – Requirements is again being proposed. League has long advocated for a strong code of ethics with an open process that “ensures transparency, accountability, positive community impact and preservation of the common good when considering the transfer of governmental services, assets and/or functions to the private sector.”
Converting our transportation system to clean energy has been advocated for in the past and we expect more bills this year. One bill that has been proposed is Maryland Transit Administration – Conversion to Zero-Emission Buses. Since transportation is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in our state and country, many efforts to tackle the immense challenge in reducing transportation emissions focus on electrification of a vehicle fleet. Here, as in many bills, costs of implementation are a key challenge.
Importance of requiring cooperation of the transportation sector to include and prioritize climate impacts as part of the environmental review is stressed. Solutions may include investing in better transit services, encouraging smart roadway pricing, and better syncing transportation with land use. Some of the biggest challenges in transportation can be solved through better land use. Bringing essential trips closer to where people live is a vital part of transportation. Legislation may address the alarming safety trends for pedestrians and bikes and encourage a “smart street design” where safety takes precedence over speed. Instead of shovel ready projects, investments by the state should be made into shovel worthy projects. Priorities should include rehabilitation of key assets, with a focus on transparency; address historic harms inflicted on marginalized communities; prioritize environmental justice; and our environment generally so together we may implement a smart transportation system.