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Pouring money into highways will get Maryland nowhere | READER COMMENTARY

Traffic congestion, looking south on Light Street, near Pratt Street. Greater investment in transit could relieve such jams, encourage young people to live in the city and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Traffic congestion, looking south on Light Street, near Pratt Street. Greater investment in transit could relieve such jams, encourage young people to live in the city and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr.)

The recent commentary that suggested Gov. Larry Hogan is right to invest in highways over public transit is dead wrong (”Gov. Hogan is right to invest in highways,” Aug. 28).

Highway expansion is ineffective at relieving congestion, is inequitable and promotes continued structural racism, and is environmentally unsustainable.

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Expanding highway capacity fails to relieve congestion because it encourages people to drive more. A 1% increase in lane miles induces a 1% increase in vehicle miles traveled. From 1982 to 2011, the Baltimore region nearly doubled its amount of freeway lane miles from 885 to 1,561, but congestion only got worse. The amount of congested lane miles grew from 31% to 58%. The annual hours of delay per auto commuter quadrupled from 9 to 41 hours per year.

We have failed to provide other transportation choices. We haven’t built any high quality rapid transit in over a generation.

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It’s inequitable because investing in widening highways is aimed at improving mobility for higher income people who own cars. An estimated 30% of Baltimore residents do not own or have access to a car. Whereas people who own cars can access 100% of area jobs within one hour, people who are reliant on public transportation can only access 11% of regional job opportunities in the same time. Investing in highways as opposed to public transit will only exacerbate patterns of structural racism that have left neighborhoods cut off from economic opportunity.

Finally, it’s environmentally unsustainable because widening highways while shortchanging investment in public transportation does not meet the challenge of climate change. Last year, Marylanders drove more miles per capita than ever before.

To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, global carbon dioxide emissions must decline by about 45% from 2010 levels. Reducing emissions from the transportation sector will be critical to this effort.

The millennial generation wants to live in urban areas where they don’t need to own a car for both economic and sustainability reasons. These are the future entrepreneurs and educated work force that will attract new industries to the city with living wage job opportunities. If we want Baltimore to become an economic engine for the region we must have a modern public transit system. We simply cannot afford to keep doing things as we have done in the past. This does not mean we oppose all highway projects everywhere. Now is the time to redirect our public investment towards a 21st century public transit system that will carry people throughout the region to their destinations quickly and efficiently.

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James W. Rouse, Jr., Baltimore

The writer is co-founder of Transit Choices, a transit advocacy organization.

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