Mass transit battle continues in Baltimore County | WYPR

Mass transit battle continues in Baltimore County

Oct 28, 2016

Traffic on the Beltway near the I-70 interchange
Credit flickr.com/dougtone

Just in time for Halloween, the ghost of the Red Line appeared as Baltimore County officials gave the state their wish list of transportation projects.

This comes as state transportation officials boast of a record number of road construction projects under way throughout Maryland, even if they do cause traffic jams.

"We have 1,073 projects which means we also have 1,073 opportunities to make somebody mad," said State Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn.

Five of those projects are on Baltimore’s Beltway, where Meg Deighton battles through the west side outer loop almost every day.

"Between two and three every day when I get off work it goes to a complete standstill," said.

That’s going to be situation normal for her and thousands of others for a while. The $104 million road project there is about 25 percent complete and won’t be done for another three years. But once it’s finished, there will be four lanes on the outer loop from Route 40 to Frederick Road.

Greg Slater, deputy administrator for planning and engineering for the State Highway Administration, said sheer volume is also slowing down traffic.

"With the economy and people driving a little more and you’re seeing a little bit of growth there, so that’s kind of adding to the frustrations," he said. "I’m sure."

But road projects alone won’t solve the region’s traffic problems—fifth worse in the nation, said Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. He’s pitching a replacement for the Red Line, the east-west light rail/subway line that Gov. Larry Hogan killed last year.

Kamenetz calls it his top priority.

"We’re not going to be able to pave our way through the problem," Kamenetz said. "We’re going to have to create mass transit alternatives."

Secretary Rahn said that’s coming, in the form of Baltimore Link. That is the overhaul of the Baltimore bus system the governor unveiled last year. While Baltimore Link won't be rolled out until next summer, you can see signs now that it’s coming, like those painted express bus lanes on Pratt and Lombard Streets downtown.

And Rahn has a warning, by the way.

"We will start enforcing those and drivers will receive a ticket if they’re in those bus lanes."

The vision for Baltimore Link is that it will connect all the region’s transit options, including MARC, the subway and light rail. There will be 12 new high frequency bus routes. This week the MTA started installing transponders on buses that will eventually change traffic lights to green in 200 intersections so the buses keep moving.

That technology will get its first test in March on portions of Loch Raven Boulevard and York Road.

Kamenetz said he’s all for updating the bus system but it’s not enough.

"A bus alone is not going to be sufficient to alleviate traffic congestion on the beltway, which is in serious or almost crisis proportions," Kamenetz said.

But Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, said the traffic congestion in the county seat is pretty serious. And he isn’t happy that there is zip for Towson in the list of priority projects Kamenetz gave the state.

Marks said, "I haven’t seen anything from the county executive to suggest any sort of vision for transportation in Towson and his wish list for the state kind of confirms that." Kamenetz disagrees.

He says roads are being improved in Towson. What the County Executive says he wants from the state is money for what he calls big picture items that affect the most people, like mass transit and an interchange at Dolefield Road and I-795 in Owings Mills.