IN CAMPAIGNING for the state's highest office last year, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. often vowed, among many promises, to try to solve the Washington area's transportation problems and strengthen Baltimore.
But in deciding his administration won't seek federal funds to start expanding Baltimore's limited rail lines within the next six years - while opting to ask for money to build major road and transit projects in Washington's suburbs - Governor Ehrlich chose the former priority over the latter.
The decision, announced Wednesday, is a major blow not only to Baltimore but to the entire region, in need of vastly improved mass transit and, particularly, the many transit-oriented redevelopment opportunities that follow building a true rail system.
It hurts the state by aggravating Washington's unhealthy dominance over Baltimore: A Greater Baltimore Committee analysis shows that, even before this decision, the capital's Maryland suburbs were projected to grab almost nine times more of the state's transportation funds than the Baltimore area from 1996 through 2008.
In both substance and suddenness - coming without notice nine days before a federal deadline - the decision was a real slap in the face of Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, the leaders of all surrounding counties, many of the region's state legislators, much of the state's congressional delegation and the area's top business executives. They all had rallied around the long-term rail plan developed over more than a year by a broad-based regional committee.
Last but not least, it was the wrong decision, prematurely taking off the table for at least six years breaking ground on improving Baltimore's transit system. As GBC President Donald C. Fry noted yesterday, putting Baltimore transit on Maryland's federal priority list wouldn't lock the state into any financial commitment, but would give it a "passkey to the future" - a place in line for federal construction funds.
This decision unnecessarily closes the door on that option until at least 2009, putting the Baltimore region even further behind. Yesterday, a phalanx of political leaders - from Mayor O'Malley to U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin - called on Mr. Ehrlich to reconsider this choice and reopen that door before the March 14 federal deadline. If he doesn't respond positively to their urgent plea, it would be another major error.