It is no secret that Baltimore is in dire need of a transportation upgrade. If one were to judge the region by its transportation system, he or she would likely conclude that Baltimore is a mid-sized, regional city with a second-tier bus network, not the anchor of the nation’s 20th largest metro area. Indeed, the city’s underfunded and delay ridden bus network, poorly maintained heavy rail line and single north-to-south light rail line are not reflective of a major metropolitan area.
This is further exacerbated by the common misconception that our region is stagnating while the Washington suburbs are booming.
Many would be surprised to learn that, over the last five years, the Baltimore region outperformed the D.C. suburbs in job creation. The region created over 83,000 jobs as compared to only 75,000 created by our regional neighbors to the south. In addition, Baltimore also boasts the nation’s 19th largest GDP, similarly ranked to cities like Charlotte, San Jose, and Denver.
The evidence is clear: Despite Baltimore’s systemic long-term issues, businesses still want to invest in our communities and employ our residents. Our next governor should take note.
Since the mid-1960s, regional transportation planners have called for as many as six rapid transit lines radiating out from downtown to the surrounding areas. Yet, this vision of a strong regional transportation system continues to be obfuscated by politics. In 2015, Baltimore’s transportation hopes suffered a debilitating blow when Gov. Larry Hogan cancelled the construction of the Red Line. The proposed east-west system would have provided light rail service to low income residents — many without access to a personal vehicle — and connected residents and tourists alike to cultural, educational and employment centers downtown and in the southeast section of the city.
While attempting to revive the Red Line in its prior iteration is likely not a realistic option, the next administration — whether Democratic or Republican — would be wise to consider the economic benefits of transportation investments in the Baltimore region. Unfortunately, our elected officials and self-proclaimed cheerleaders are not making this argument. This perpetuates the long-held and false narrative that Baltimore’s desire for further transportation funding is entirely driven by equitable considerations. As the numbers above demonstrate, this is only part of the equation.
Despite Baltimore creating more jobs for Maryland than the D.C. suburbs, Baltimore is only slated to receive $2.1 billion in funding for transportation improvements while the D.C. suburbs are getting $11 billion in funding. When transportation funding is divided based on the number of new jobs, the state is planning to spend nearly six times per additional job in the D.C. suburbs compared with the Baltimore region. Although wages are higher in the D.C. suburbs, it is highly unlikely that a job there is six times more valuable than one here in Baltimore. Critically, given the higher job creation numbers in Baltimore and the typical ratio of return on investment from transportation funding, the current funding decisions made by Annapolis make for very bad economics.
It is time for policymakers to recognize Baltimore’s strong record of job growth and invest state dollars to realize this potential. The city’s current transportation system simply does not meet the needs of a growing job center, and it’s nonsensical that the region with the state’s highest job growth receives such a disproportionately low portion of transportation funding. If we continue to ignore Baltimore’s transportation needs, our area’s recent job creation success will prove to be an aberration.
In order to ensure that our region continues on an upward economic trajectory, it is our responsibility as Baltimoreans to take action. First, community and institutional leaders must work harder to show policymakers that investing in our region’s transportation system is not only the right and fair thing to do, but it is also an economically smart decision. After all, Governor Hogan ran on the slogan of “Making Maryland open for business.” It is time that he employed the corollary slogan, “investing where the jobs are.”
Before Election Day we must press incumbents and new candidates alike to address this problem and take a firm stance on this issue on the campaign trail. After Election Day, it is our job to hold our local, state and federal officials accountable and ensure that they are truly fighting for what our region needs and deserves. Baltimore has taken the backseat for long enough, and it is time that we finally get the recognition and resources we deserve. Let’s get to work.
Mark Edelson is a member of the board of Baltimore Transit Campaign and president of the Canton Community Association. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.