The Baltimore area's elected leaders vowed yesterday to put aside parochial interests and craft a new long-range plan for alleviating the region's worsening traffic woes.
Members of the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board, meeting at the Camden Yards warehouse downtown, promised that "Vision 2030," the 18-month planning effort they are launching, would go to unprecedented lengths to incorporate the views of city and suburban residents alike, with focus groups, public meetings and a statewide poll.
But a national expert on suburban sprawl who spoke to the group warned that as long as people love their cars, no plan is going to get rid of traffic.
"Get yourself in a comfortable, air-conditioned car with a good stereo, tape deck, CD player, hands-free phone, fax machine and even a microwave oven, and commute with someone you're attracted to, because congestion is here to stay," said Anthony Downs, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Earlier plan criticized
This plan follows another regional transportation plan, Outlook 2020, which was adopted less than three years ago. That plan was besieged by criticism from environmentalists, urban revitalization groups, highway safety advocates and others for its conclusion. The plan concluded that, even though the region would spend $16 billion during the next 20 years to upgrade and maintain its transportation systems, traffic congestion, air pollution and sprawl would only get worse.
Previous plans have been little more than blueprints for divvying up road projects among the jurisdictions, said Daniel J. Pontious, director of the Baltimore Regional Partnership, a coalition of civic and environmental groups. That led to greater dependence on highways rather than on mass transit, which experts say is best developed at a regional level.
Both Pontious and Mark R. Riso, executive director of Maryland Highway Contractors Association, said they are impressed by the plan's far-reaching approach, and by how much time will be spent seeking consensus.
Political strength affirmed
C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Baltimore County executive and chairman of the transportation board, said he thinks the political strength is there to make the regional approach stick this time.
"You have elected officials in place now that agree on all this," he said. "We've got officials working together and caring about these issues more than any other group I've known."
By the time the plan is approved, some of the officials who gathered yesterday, Ruppersberger included, will be on their way out of office. The plan is not scheduled for completion until the fall of next year.