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What's Ahead For Projects

Look at the Maryland Department of Transportation Web site today and you'll see the brand new line up of state leaders across the top and a new welcome message from John Porcari, Gov. Martin O'Malley's choice to lead the transportation department.

What else is different? Porcari told me that he saw no reason to stop the intercounty connector, the suburban Washington highway that former governor Bob Ehrlich put on the fast track. But Porcari also is likely to show a greater interest in improving transit than was evident during the previous administration.

He's hoping to make some relatively quick improvements in MARC train and commuter bus services, for example.

His predecessor, Bob Flanagan, was enthralled with the possibility of creating bus rapid transit systems. He had the department looking at them for the proposed Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway. Last week, Porcari accompanied O'Malley to a town hall meeting at Einstein High School in Montgomery County, where Purple Line advocates were prominent. They want the Purple Line to be a light rail.

When I later asked Porcari whether he favored one strategy over the other, he said that no decision had been made and that the current study process needed to play itself out.

But he immediately pointed out a strength of the light rail concept over bus rapid transit. Porcari sees transportation systems not only as people movers but also as organizing points for growth, said:

"This isn't transportation in a vacuum. Whether you're building transit in particular or highways, it should be linked to local land use. And how are you going to have transit-oriented development if you have bus rapid transit and, for example, the stations could be moved every 30 days? Not that they would be, but think of yourself as the first investor going into a revitalized Silver Spring. Would you put tens of millions of dollars of private capital at risk next to a station that could be moved if it's bus rapid transit?

"One of the advantages of fixed guideway -- heavy rail or light rail -- is that you can make a reasonable assumption that if you make the investment in the community, you have a reasonable expectation that stations will be there 50 years from now, 100 years from now.

"You really miss the boat if you're not tying transportation and land use together."

That's not a decision, but it's a pretty strong tilt by a guy who'll have something to say about it.

By Robert Thomson  |  January 18, 2007; 7:41 AM ET
Categories:  Transportation Politics  
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