Maryland has always subjugated transit, walking and biking options to highways. Then, in 2015, Gov. Larry Hogan killed the Red Line, forfeited $900 million in federal funding and increased highway building even more.

In fact, the Baltimore region’s Transportation Improvement Program for 2021-2024 allocated a mere $2 million versus $1.3 billion for road building and widening.

This preference for roads is also baked into long-term projections. The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board’s most recent 25-year plan identifies billions more in new highway capacity spending than for transit.

This won’t improve mobility. To paraphrase noted urban planner Lewis Mumford, building more roads to alleviate congestion is like loosening one’s belt to relieve obesity. It’s short-term relief at best.

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So, we can expect more, not less, congestion as development pushes farther away from employment and commercial destinations. And studies show human health not only will be damaged from more emissions, but commuting by car has been shown to increase blood pressure, elevate cholesterol and increase heart attacks. And those who cannot afford a car will continue to be left behind.

But there is good news. Change may soon be here.

The Transportation and Climate Alignment Act, sponsored by Del. Mark Edelson, who represents Baltimore, and Sen. Clarence Lam, who represents Anne Arundel and Howard counties, is pending in the General Assembly. It would require the Maryland Department of Transportation and regional transportation planning agencies to think differently about highway expansion projects and, for the first time, calculate their real impacts.

Vehicle emissions are the largest sources of greenhouse gases fueling climate change. The legislation would require the state to calculate how many more miles would be driven once these road projects are built. It would then determine how much more carbon pollution would be generated by this increased driving.

Using the data, the agencies would be required to mitigate the damage by investing in other transportation-related projects, such as improving and expanding public transit, creating protected bike infrastructure, expanding broadband access to allow more people to work from home and locating jobs and amenities near where people live and near transit. Projects that maintain our existing roads and make them safer for all users would be exempted.

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The legislation is modeled on bills that passed in Colorado and Minnesota. It would help reduce air pollution and create more walkable neighborhoods and safer bike lanes. And we would begin seeing more housing and commercial development integrated with public transportation service.

Unlike other great cities, Baltimore lacks robust public transportation. No new transit capacity has been added in the region since the 1990s. Even worse, we have gone backward, with the cancellation of the Red Line and recent service cuts. But road construction continues.

We must not continue this madness. Better transit options will help workers get to jobs, such as those at Tradepoint Atlantic and Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport, to name just two employers. And many of our children who rely on public transportation to get to school will no longer have to endure commutes of more than an hour.

Gov. Wes Moore and leaders in the General Assembly have expressed support for expanded public transportation and other nonhighway projects. Let’s see if they deliver. Or will their promises go unfulfilled while the status quo remains?

It’s time for Maryland to begin building a balanced transportation system that serves everyone. The Transportation and Climate Alignment Act will help us get there. Let your elected officials know how important this is to you.

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Will Baker led the Chesapeake Bay Foundation from 1981 to 2021. He is a founding member and current director of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance. He is also a Baltimore Banner donor.

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