Baltimore needs better transportation to jobs

Under ordinary circumstances, I would delight in the words of Baltimore-Washington International-Thurgood Marshall Airport CEO Ricky Smith describing the expansion boon currently underway at the airport. BWI is consistently setting passenger records and expanding its 14,000 workforce, and the surrounding businesses are benefiting from the windfall. However, these are not ordinary circumstances in Baltimore in the summer of 2017. So it was with all-too familiar dismay that I heard the thud as the other shoe dropped: Mr. Smith reported that the biggest obstacle to success is getting Baltimore City workers out to the airport to work (“Airport faces transit issue,” Aug. 8). In these complex and fraught times, it is as simple as this: Our Baltimore citizens do not have the transportation to get to the jobs which are available, the jobs which are their vital links to financial, physical and emotional health.

My fellow Baltimore citizens, we have to talk about the “t-word.” We have to talk about transportation in Baltimore because it if a major factor in blocking Baltimore’s way out of poverty and crime and into health and safety. We have to talk about it because the pain I now feel takes me right back to that day in June 2015 when the state announced the cancellation of the $2.9 billion Red Line — choking the lifeline of Baltimore transportation, throwing away almost a billion dollars of federal money and diverting state money to suburban roads. It takes me back to the days following the death of Freddie Gray when my fellow community leaders and I tried to heal the anguish that spilled onto the streets of our city as national cameras panned scenes of our neighborhoods rife with vacant homes and parched with food deserts. This is what the lack of job access creates, this is its legacy. We have to talk about it because the unspeakable frustration I feel for the loss of the best opportunity in years to actually fix the problem of job access in Baltimore resounds hauntingly in Ricky Smith’s words, and it belies the promises of the “new” Mass Transit Administration system — BaltimoreLink.

After the devastation of the Red Line cancellation, we were promised that the priority of the BaltimoreLink would be job access for our underserved Baltimore neighborhoods. But when the first drafts of the BaltimoreLink came out, it was clear that this was not the case, that there were no fundamental, transformative shifts. The much-ballyhooed $135 million plan is spread out over six years with $65 million for capital expenses and $70 million for the operating budget. That $70 million spread out over six years amounts to a mere 1.5 percent increase in the MTA’s annual operating budget.

The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance published an in-depth analysis of BaltimoreLink entitled, “Will We Be Better Off?” The alliance found that access to jobs under the plan increases by only 1 percent on weekdays and actually decreases 2 percent on Sundays. The analysis reveals that access to jobs “will not significantly increase under BaltimoreLink. Any marginal weekday gains are outweighed by losses in access to jobs on a weekend day for the average resident of the region. The loss of weekend service is critical because many high opportunity jobs are in industries that operate many shifts a day, seven days a week. Additionally, this study finds negligible improvements in access to Baltimore City Schools and access to healthy food options. Taken together, this study finds that BaltimoreLink represents a missed opportunity to address regional goals to connect households to jobs, schools, and essential services through transit.”

This is our reality. We have to keep Baltimore moving forward. We have to stop the transportation bleeding and compensate for the lost opportunities wrought by the lack of investment in our transportation infrastructure. We have to think outside the box. I will call upon city leaders, state legislative leaders and the MTA to renew efforts to get our people to the major employment centers. We need to consider expanding existing transportation hubs on the east and west sides (Mondawmin Mall and Penn Station, for example) to be advertised location feeders to job sites such as BWI, Amazon, and Tradepoint Atlantic in Sparrows Point with buses lined up and ready to shuttle workers to and from those sites. We need to make getting to BWI on public transportation within an hour from any point in Baltimore a top priority. The light rail system goes directly into BWI Airport. Let’s provide bus service from east and west Baltimore to light rail stops and offer new low “no cost” transfers for those workers onto light rail. We need to expand the hours of service on the light rail on the weekend. When Gov. Larry Hogan announced his initial plan in October 2015, one of the bullet points was to expand the hours of service to the light rail on Sundays. Now is the time to do it.

Our business leaders are echoing the call for a system where workers can get to their jobs — and the flip side is the need to arrive on time, healthy, rested after sleep in a decent neighborhood and assured that their children are safe in a good school or a quality daycare. It is all connected. My fellow Baltimore leaders and I will never lose sight of the true links which drive all of our thinking and actions — the link between job access and life opportunity and the link between lack of access and sustained, concentrated poverty.

Maggie McIntosh, Baltimore

The writer, a Democrat, represents District 43, Baltimore City, in the Maryland House of Delegates where she serves as chair of the Appropriations Committee.

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