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Op-ed

The time is now to build better transit for Greater Baltimore | GUEST COMMENTARY

For Greater Baltimore to thrive, we need a competitive, modern, sustainable transit system. The benefits of efficient transit are well documented, including expanded access to opportunities, improved economic efficiency, and reduced socio-economic and race-based gaps. Put simply, good transit means more opportunity for more people.

Building a modern transit system will transform our region. Crosstown trips in Baltimore City would no longer take two to three times longer on public transit than by car, and hundreds of thousands of jobs in neighboring counties would be more accessible to city and county residents. Our ability to attract new residents, retain our incredible local talent, and create new jobs and industries also would be greatly enhanced by a modern transit system.

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Like much of the country, as a region we have underinvested in transit for decades and need substantial investments to modernize the system. Other than the 2018 BaltimoreLink bus network redesign, the region’s last major public transit expansion took place 25 years ago, in 1997 when the light rail was extended to Hunt Valley and spurs were added to Penn Station and BWI Airport. The needs are clear, and the timing is particularly opportune as a once-in-a-generation funding opportunity is becoming available that should catalyze us all into action.

In November, President Biden signed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which allocates $1.2 trillion to transform the country’s infrastructure over the next five years, an increase of $550 billion in incremental funding and includes more than $100 billion in funding for public transit and rail infrastructure. This presents a huge opportunity for the Baltimore region to secure federal funding to accelerate the transit and rail investments we know we must make. To access much of this money, we need to compete with regions across the country, which will require concrete plans, clear priorities, and short- and long- term goals. We must build on the positive initial steps our elected officials have already taken in the Central Maryland Regional Transit Plan (created before the IIJA) and continue to expand on concrete priorities and action strategies that our region can deploy to maximize this historic infrastructure investment opportunity.

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This is why the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Greater Washington Partnership have collaborated to develop a set of six priorities for “Baltimore’s Transit Future” that will greatly strengthen the region’s transit network: return the system to a state of good repair; hire more transit operators; connect to our region’s job centers by bus; enhance regional coordination, governance, and funding; develop and implement a 10-year rapid transit expansion program; prioritize regional rail; and unlock equitable development at our region’s transit stations.

Now is the time for all of us — elected, business, community and civic leaders, as well as riders and labor organizations — to work together to push these priorities forward so that we can secure the federal funding.

Opportunities like this do not come around often. Well-planned investments in transit will increase regional economic growth, expand residents’ access to opportunity and strengthen Greater Baltimore’s competitiveness in attracting and retaining businesses and residents for generations to come. We have a chance as a region to take a big leap forward with inclusive economic growth if we are willing to work for it.

As business leaders dedicated to this region, we believe that the modernization of our public transit system will enable Greater Baltimore to reemerge as the marquee city and region we all know it can be. We stand alongside the thousands of employers who are committed to the Baltimore region. Our success is deeply intertwined with the success of the region, and both are enhanced by the success of our transit network.

We are strongest when we work together. Let’s make this a collective priority to deliver a truly transformational transit system that positions our region to thrive in the next decade.

Arun Subhas (arun.subhas@ey.com) is managing partner of the Baltimore office of Ernst & Young LLP (EY) and a board member of the Greater Baltimore Committee. Bill Stromberg (billstromberg81@gmail.com) is the retired chief executive officer of T. Rowe Price Group Inc. and a board member of both the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Greater Washington Partnership. The views expressed by the authors are not necessarily those of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization or T. Rowe Price Group, Inc.


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