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Rodricks: Hogan's yesterday thinking on public transit

Rodricks: Hogan's yesterday thinking on public transit
"We have enough roads. We should be trying to use them less." (Baltimore Sun)

Larry Hogan has an odd sense of timing. In June 2015, just two months after Baltimore suffered the trauma of rioting, arson and looting, followed by a period of reflection on the city's adverse social and economic conditions, the Maryland governor killed the Red Line — the long-planned light rail project that held the promise of hundreds of construction jobs and significant redevelopment, particularly on the west side of the city, the epicenter of the unrest.

The $2 billion in state money that would have gone into the Red Line went instead into road projects in suburban and rural areas. With that action, Hogan took a huge step toward defining his governorship: A road-warrior Republican, bullish on cars and trucks, indebted to the people who sent him to Annapolis, and not thinking much beyond the next election.

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It was classic politics, and vintage 20th-century thinking — patronizing your base and rejecting mass transit.

Now, just a couple of weeks after historically horrible hurricanes rocked the nation's consciousness about the role of human-caused climate change in extreme weather, we see, in addition to Hogan's peculiar sense of timing, his lack of holistic vision.

On Thursday, he announced a $9 billion plan to widen highways to accommodate more fossil fuel-burning motor vehicles.

And the governor proposed these huge road projects just after pledging to join the effort to convince Amazon to establish its second headquarters at Port Covington in Baltimore. It's great that the governor did that, but the Amazon wish-list emphasizes a desire for access to highways and to mass transit, and so far those key facets are missing from the big redevelopment plans for Port Covington.

Remember: When Hogan killed the Red Line, he not only threw away the millions the state already had spent in planning for it, but $900 million that the federal government would have contributed for construction. And just a year later, the feds rejected Maryland's application for $76 million for an Interstate 95 interchange project that would have served Port Covington.

So, as great as Port Covington might look on paper, and as close as it is to a highway, it still needs spurs — one made of concrete, one made of rails.

What will Amazon see when it regards Hogan? A pro-business governor who rejected an urban mass transit project for the sake of widening roads in the 'burbs and beyond. And it will see his latest and biggest proposal: Express toll lanes on the Interstate 495 Capital Beltway, the I-270 spur between Frederick and D.C., and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

So, Hogan is a road guy. That would have been fine four decades ago. It's not today.

A governor with vision — a genuine common-sense, forward-thinking conservative — does not roll out expansion plans for roads when he should be acknowledging the need to reduce consumption of fossil fuels in every way possible.

We have enough roads. We should be trying to use them less.

Public leaders of both parties should support mass transit projects with the zeal politicians once brought to road construction. If we widen roads, it should be for new rail lines. And they can be developed with the same kind of public-private partnerships Hogan has in mind for his highway expansions.

It takes big thinking, an acknowledgment that we have to pull away from where we are now: one person per automobile burning gas in rush hour along the congested highways.

Is this all about climate change? In large measure, yes, and it should be. Maryland already has made significant progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Hogan should embrace an even more ambitious agenda for reducing Maryland's contribution to global warming.

But getting bullish on that front — supporting renewable energy and the green-jobs economy — should include promoting electric-powered mass transit.

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In doing so, Hogan would not be responding to some crunchy fringe constituency. This is mainstream stuff now.

In January, when Marriott International announced its development partners for a new $600 million corporate headquarters, the company made much of the fact that the new site would be "a short walk from the Bethesda Metro station."

When the project is completed — with the help of $62 million in Maryland taxpayer subsidies — the world's largest hotelier will give up an office park near a highway for a 22-story office building in downtown Bethesda. The desire for a more urban setting, near mass transit, is not unique to Marriott. It's a trend now among progressive companies, right along with green building standards, child care centers, fitness centers and cafeterias that serve locally sourced food.

Good and reliable public transportation is attracting a constituency among the growing numbers of us who understand its necessity in the age of resource depletion, population growth and climate change.

Larry Hogan remains a popular governor. That should empower him to be bullish on preparing Maryland for the future, instead of just widening roads to the past.

Gov. Larry Hogan proposed a $9 billion project to add four lanes each to the entire stretches of three of Maryland’s most congested highways.
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