Over the next four years in the Baltimore region, nearly four times as much money could be spent on expanding highways as expanding public transit and roughly twice as much could be spent on fixing highways as fixing public transit, according to the regional planning board’s latest draft plan.

Roughly $1.7 billion would be split across 96 road maintenance projects to reconstruct bridges in Anne Arundel County, resurface roads in Baltimore City and much more. About $600 million would go into 18 highway expansion projects, including widening a section of Snowden River Parkway in Howard County and $5 million to plan a massive, half-a-billion dollar project along seven miles of Interstate 95 in Baltimore.

The plan includes 14 transit maintenance projects, including nearly $200 million for the Maryland Transit Administration to do preventive work across bus, light rail and other modes. The two transit expansion projects included are roughly $151 million for planning Baltimore’s future east-west Red Line and $11 million to advance plans for connecting the MARC Penn and Camden lines via a new downtown rail link.

A white bus with a sign saying "PURPLE ROUTE" at the top is seen amongst a crowd of moving cars.
Drivers on the Charm City Circulator Purple Route navigate rush hour traffic. (Daniel Zawodny)

The plan comes as state lawmakers need to find ways to fund transportation projects, and it is the latest head-scratcher for advocates trying to level the plan with the state’s aggressive climate goals.

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The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board, made up of representatives of the eight cities and counties that comprise the Baltimore metro region, as well as planning and transportation officials, releases an annual Transportation Improvement Plan that maps spending for the coming years.

The plan, available here, is open for public comment until June 17 via this short online survey. The planning board will vote on adopting the plan at its July 23 meeting.

The planning board is not part of the Maryland Department of Transportation but coordinates closely with it. It is tasked with aligning state and federal spending — any Maryland transportation project that will receive federal funding must be included in the BRTB’s short- and long-term plans.

The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board has short- and long-term plans that direct federal spending on state transportation projects. (Daniel Zawodny/The Baltimore Banner)

The current iteration of the plan does not include the rebuild of the Francis Scott Key Bridge — estimated to cost $1.7 billion to $1.9 billion — but will be amended to include it before the July vote, according to Todd Lang, director of transportation planning for the BRTB’s parent organization, the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.

The state is seeking proposals from contractors for the megaproject and hopes to select one by the end of the month.

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The $336 million — 7.4% of the total plan — for reducing greenhouse gas emissions includes important projects such as building trails and electric vehicle chargers, but the larger plan still “misses the forest for the trees,” said Brian O’Malley, president and CEO of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, an advocacy organization.

It has to do with the hotly debated concept of induced demand, which some engineers chalk up as a myth. But many progressive transportation planners agree that expanding highways and reducing car congestion typically encourage more driving, not less, which is a key component of the state’s plan to reduce its carbon footprint.

Though emissions go down with more fuel-efficient vehicles, Maryland transportation officials are anticipating increases in traffic on major roadways such as Interstate 695 over time, which could cancel out gains from the EV transition. Last year, about 184,000 cars traveled on I-695 on the average day; in 20 years, that average could grow to around 215,000, according to state planning documents.

The transportation sector is the leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions statewide, driven largely by tailpipe emissions.

A black car zips past an orange road work sign that reads "detour ahead."
Construction to overhaul Druid Hill Park's reservoir and lake has closed lanes along Druid Park Lake Drive for years. (Daniel Zawodny)

“We still have a long way to go to have a more balanced TIP [Transportation Improvement Program] that matches public sentiment,” said Eric Norton, policy director for the CMTA. The organization and Rails To Trails Conservancy, which is pushing for transportation officials to finish a roughly 35-mile trail network around Baltimore, recently commissioned polling of 750 people in the region about a variety of transportation topics.

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If given the checkbook, most respondents would invest about a quarter of transportation spending — the highest of any category — into fixing and maintaining roadways, according to poll results shared with The Banner. Roughly 16% of spending would support expanding and building new public transit, a much higher share than the 3.6% allocated in the draft BRTB plan.

The polling, which included 500 Baltimore respondents from a wide range of ZIP codes and 250 county respondents, also indicated strong support for the Greenway Trails Network. Officials prioritizing trails for walking and biking drew support from 58% of respondents, who said they were more likely to vote for such an elected official.

The draft plan also moves the goalpost on roadway fatalities. Though the ultimate objective is, of course, zero, states and planners set targets for future years using previous years as baselines. In 2019, the planning board set a target of 121 yearly roadway fatalities in the metro region by 2030. Now, the 2030 goal is 211. Maryland, much like most of the nation, has seen a spike in roadway deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Some of the projects included as highway preservation in the plan are for safety improvements and traffic-calming measures.

In addition to the online survey, the public is invited to share comments on the plan by sending an email to brtb-tip@publicinput.com, texting “BRTB-TIP” to 73224, calling and leaving a voicemail at 855-925-2801x10279 or using #BRTBListens on social media to reach @BaltoMetroCo.