Category ArchiveReforming Maryland
Reforming Maryland Susan Freis Falknor on 27 Oct 2015
Maryland Election Watcher:Documents Suggest Non-Citizens Are Voting in Large Numbers–with Valid IDs!
This Thursday evening, October 29, Maryland attorney Jeff Levin will present newly obtained materials on what could amount to massive voter fraud in Maryland and across the nation.
In an open town hall meeting hosted by the Northern Baltimore County Republican and Civic Association in Parkton, election-integrity advocate Levin will talk about newly available information on voter registration irregularities in Maryland’s Frederick County—data that could signal a much wider problem.
“These documents suggest that the County’s voter rolls contain a significant number of individuals who, when called for jury duty, reported themselves to be ineligible as non-citizens,” Levin told the Blue Ridge Forum.
The problem occurs when non-citizens check off a “Voter Registration” box when obtaining a drivers’ license under the 1993 Motor Voter Act or in the course of applying for public services —improperly putting themselves on the voter rolls.
Long-time Pikesville resident Levin (email) pointed to a 2014 Federal court lawsuit brought by four Frederick County eligible voters asserting that many individuals on Frederick County voting rolls have told the Frederick County jury commissioner that they were not eligible to serve as jurors, because they were not citizens.
The Frederick County jury services department documents, now in Levin’s possession, contain 3,000-plus names of individuals who were not eligible for jury service (some of whom have apparently voted).
The documents cover a period of several years prior to the 2014 Federal lawsuit.
Levin believes one can draw three implications from the case:
• The data from Frederick County suggests that the Motor Voter system could produce widespread voter fraud in other Maryland counties, and even across the country.
• It is perjury to sign two contradictory oaths, for example, that (1) one is eligible to vote as a citizen; and (2) that one cannot serve on a jury because he or she is not a citizen. The looseness of Motor Voter Act’s provisions magnify the odds that large numbers of individuals ineligible to vote, have committed a serious crime, inadvertently or not.
• Making Real ID a requirement for voting – which Levin supports — would not solve this problem. Why? Ineligibles improperly placed on the voter rolls through the Motor Voter system possess a valid or “Real ID.”
Levin will present his findings Thursday, October 29, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. at the Parkton American Legion, 19520 York Road in Parkton, Maryland, one quarter mile north (or left), from the end of Exit 33 of Interstate 83. Click here for a map.
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Additionally, Robyn Sachs, founder of the Maryland Voter Alliance, will speak on election integrity matters on November 5, 2015, at the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee’s First Thursday Speaker Series. The event, scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m., will take place at the Barking Dog, 4723 Elm Street, Bethesda, Maryland, 20814.
Reforming Maryland Peter Samuel on 29 Jun 2015
Peter Samuel: Governor Kills Baltimore Rail Boondoggle; Asks Montgomery & PG Counties To Put Up More Dollars For Purple Line; Restores Roads Money
Governor Larry Hogan delivered on some major campaign promises June 25 announcing about $2 billion for road projects while cutting fancy ‘light rail’ spending.
“Building, maintaining and fixing Maryland’s roads and bridges is our top transportation priority,” Hogan said. The money will see some 84 ready projects move forward across the state.
As expected, Governor Hogan is dumping the $2.6 billion-odd light rail project in Baltimore, but he says his administration is prepared to continue with “a more cost-effective and streamlined version” of the Purple light rail line – Bethesda to New Carrollton. He says his administration will shoulder $168 million versus $700 million committed by former Governor Martin O’Malley to what was costed at about $2.5 billion.
This requires savings in the purchase of fewer rail cars (and lesser frequency of trains) plus increased contributions by Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties.
All these are moves in the right direction. The light rail projects are a sinkhole for taxpayer dollars both in construction and then in operating losses in years to come. And the numbers of people they promise to serve is highly speculative. Even at the promised numbers, they shape up as hugely expensive per rider.
Northern Virginia’s Silver Line is working out expensive at $240 million per mile construction cost, but Maryland’s light rail projects are not far behind at $150 million per mile for the Purple Line and $180-plus million per mile for the Red Line. And that’s before cost overruns!
Now the Silver Line is a ‘heavy rail’ service in a fully grade-separated right of way running trains as long as eight cars, and with a design that allows 70mph running speeds.
Light rail is a kind of bastard design – a cross between a trolley/streetcar and a metro rail, limited by a lot of in-street operation (2 or 3 car trains, 30mph running speeds) that manages to incur a large proportion of the construction costs of the metro.
The Red Line had a central heavy rail type underground section over 3 miles long with five deep stations through downtown Baltimore – a ‘big dig’ kind of project horrendously difficult to manage to a budget. Much of the remainder is at-grade, an environment in which an interface has to be managed with motorists, pedestrians and cyclists. Cross-streets are often closed, turns are more difficult and street space is consumed.
The Purple Line is almost all at-grade, making for easier, cheaper construction but maximizing interface problems with other modes. Average speed on the Purple line will be barely 15 mph, calling into question its ability to attract riders from other modes. (Bicycles regularly sustain 15mph!) In neither case will road congestion be improved according to the modeling.
Brookings Institution economists Winston and Maheshri (Journal of Urban Economics July 2006) compiled data on the characteristics and performance of 25 rail systems and their urban environments, modeling how they might be adapted to pay their way and produce benefits greater than their costs.
Their finding: It can’t be done. Rail in none of its forms can attract the volumes of riders needed to cover its high costs in most American cities because cars, buses and roads provide better service at much lower cost.
They concluded: “We find for all systems that the welfare optimizing (mileage) of track is zero… no optimal size for any (rail) transit system exists that enables it to generate enough consumer surplus and revenue to offset its (costs.)”
Growth and Jobs?
Economic development? This and the jobs is the most frequently touted benefit from the Red and Purple lines. Winston and Mahreshri found no measurable net effect from any of the new rail systems – just rearrangement of development with more development close to rail stops, but offset by less development elsewhere. The light rail boosters forget to mention the offsetting change on the negative side of the ledger.
The ‘Four area megaprojects compared’ panel (click on image below) I drafted shows the cost problem suffered by the light rail projects.
I’ve gone out of my way to give them the benefit of the doubt – for example using their forecast ridership numbers (likely to be lower) and estimated costs (likely to be higher.) And I’ve used current average link volumes on 495 where we use total trips on the rail lines. So the discrepancy shown is likely to understate road’s cost advantage.
Selfdrive Technology and Roads
Looking ahead ten or fifteen years the implementation of sensing and communications technologies will enable roads and rubber-tired vehicles to get much further ahead. Selfdrive technologies will (1) turn drive-time into talk-time, internet time, email time, etc.; (2) allow cars to be run closer together for greater throughput; and (3) enable automatic valet parking. Digital mapping and matching apps are just beginning to support carpooling, ride shares, casual taxi work (Uber, Lyft, Vride, Zimride… the list goes on). Roads have advantages of flexibility and adaptability needed for the quick adoption of these kinds of productivity enhancing innovations.
Governor Hogan had little to lose politically by simply dumping the Red Line as a “wasteful boondoggle.” He could have acknowledged however that it leaves downtown Baltimore with poor connections to the Woodlawn area at the end of I-70. Some new pavement-based link is, I suggest, worth a study.
Politics and the Purple Line
The Purple Line as transportation is just as much a ‘boondoggle’ as the Red Line, perhaps more so. Crosstown routings like the Purple Line have a worse record than downtown-oriented rail. And the Purple Line is slower.
Politics however favored the Purple Line. It is fully designed and ready to go. And it is quicker and easier to build than the Red, more likely to produce a ribbon-cutting within a governor’s term of office. Governor Hogan has much more at stake politically in Montgomery County than in Baltimore. Getting the counties to contribute more, and slimming the cost a little is also smart politics.
At a recent (June 12) Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance (SMTA) ‘summit’ there were many calls for “political leadership” on three of the bigger projects, especially the Maryland Beltway Bethesda east, the I-270/495 corridor, and an ICC-VA28 link with a new Potomac River bridge.
Governor Hogan and Secretary Pete Rahn clearly think they have a big job to do with the $2 billion program they’ve announced, and understandably are reluctant to even think about SMTA’s three highway megaprojects.
Project Self-Sufficiency for Mega Undertakings
I think it would help, as suggested in a previous piece, if they were to spell out a principle of project self-sufficiency – encouraging private sector initiative in developing big projects that can pay their way with fees for use (tolls).
After all, that’s the way Virginia got its I-495 express lanes and rebuild, and improvements for cars and buses on I-95 and the Dulles Greenway.
Let the private sector wrestle with alternative routings and traffic studies and all that!
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Peter Samuel of British and Australian upbringing has an academic background in economics, finance, and urban planning. In the U.S. from 1980 to 1992 he wrote as a daily reporter on defense and foreign policy. Then, as a freelance writer, he specialized in critical writing on the environmental movement. A longtime friend of Robert Poole, he wrote first on roads for Poole’s Reason magazine: click here. An article on toll roads commissioned by Forbes magazine in 1996 led him to specialize in reporting on the toll-roads business, first in a low circulation monthly Toll Roads Newsletter, that he established, then in the web-based TOLLROADSnews, which he sold to new management at the end of 2013. In the U.S. since 1980 he has lived in the New York area, in N.W. Washington D.C., and since 1992 in Frederick County, Maryland. He currently lives in 19th century downtown Frederick.
Reforming Maryland admin on 15 Jun 2015
By Jeff Levin**
Yesterday, Sunday, June 14, 2015, the following two news story headers appeared on page one of the Baltimore Sun, above the fold:
“Arrest decline spurs concern”;
“For city merchants a difficult road back”.
As of 2:19 AM that same date, there had been 132 murders* in Baltimore City (population around 600,000) since January 1, 2015: 120 blacks, 6 whites, 1 Asian, 5 race unknown, including 9 below the age of 18 all of whom were black. During the same five and one-half months last year, there were 89 mostly black murder victims.
Since May 1st of this year, there have been 59 Baltimore murders of whom 53 were black including children aged one, two, and seven. Additionally, there have been more than 100 non-fatal shootings since May 1st.
The identity of the killers is mostly not known, as very few of the murders have been solved. But no one doubts that the preponderance of the killers are the same race as the preponderance of the victims.
“Arrest decline spurs concern”
The first headline above refers to an astonishing drop in the number of arrests by Baltimore police officers since May 1st, despite the extraordinary increase in violent crime.
Officers have explained that they want to do their job, but fear being charged with crimes if they make a mistake.
Theirs is a rational fear.
After May 1st, Baltimore’s prosecutor brought criminal assault and false imprisonment charges against several officers who participated in the Freddie Gray arrest. The subsequent grand jury indictments dropped the false imprisonment charges, but maintained second degree assault charges against all six of the officers involved in the arrest or transport of Gray. The assault charges appear to be circular in that they seem to be based on nothing more than the physical apprehension of Gray without, according to the prosecutor, probable cause for the arrest.
The first article vividly describes the situation. “I’ve noticed fewer police,” said Steve Dixon, the program director of a west Baltimore recovery center.
“We’re having robberies at the playground in broad daylight. All these murders and shootings, we’re having them in broad daylight.”
“For city merchants a difficult road back”.
The second headline refers to the approximately 380 businesses that the rioters damaged, destroyed, or burned, as a result of Baltimore’s decision to give, in the mayor’s words, “protestors” the “space” “to destroy.”
Business owners have to decide whether to reopen in a city that chooses not to protect them, particularly in light of what might happen if the indicted officers are not seen by activists to be “sufficiently” punished.
Those owners who decide to reopen will still have to navigate the City’s bureaucracies and figure out how to operate with much higher costs – property insurance, for example.
Into this daunting context jumps the state legislature’s new “Public Safety and Policing Workgroup,” appointed by State Senate president Mike Miller and House of Delegates speaker Michael Busch, with calls for police sensitivity training “to help police officers identify their own subconscious racial biases” and for “racial and ethnic diversity training.” See Kazanjian, “Legislators call for more diversity, standardized training for police,” MarylandReporter, June 8, 2015.
This cartoonish, “politically correct” (PC) response to a desperate situation is from an alternate universe.
In the universe in which we live, Baltimore has a black mayor, a black city council president, black police and fire chiefs, and an elected black prosecutor. Moreover, three of the six Freddie Gray indicted officers are black including the driver of the transporting van.
The police – 130 had to seek hospital treatment for their riot injuries — who were trying to protect the mostly black victims of mostly black criminals are not the ones needing racial sensitivity training.
One day before this extra-terrestrial workgroup meeting, at 4:53 AM, Kevin Jones, a 22 year old black male, was murdered – “shot multiple times” – on the Pimlico Race Course’s parking lot where he was on his way to his job as a security guard at the track. See WBALtv.com report.
The out-of-state corporation that owns the track has pointedly been talking of moving the Preakness from Pimlico with an urgency that was not present before the “space” to “destroy” riots. A senior representative of the corporation was quick to underline the relevance of Kevin Jones’ murder to the upcoming decision.
Businesses and professionals, both here and elsewhere, have their eyes set directly on Baltimore City to see whether we will do what is needed to reestablish public safety. Big money decisions and the economic future of our city and state, as well as the lives of who knows how many mostly black Baltimore citizens, are in the balance.
PC claptrap from other-worldly workgroups is neither going to protect Baltimore City’s vulnerable population nor enable its recovery.
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*The Sun reports, as of AM on 6/15, the murder figure is now 134.
** Contributor Jeff Levin has law and business degrees from Columbia University. He practiced labor law in Baltimore until his father’s sudden death in 1975 when he began managing his family’s retail business in Pikesville, Maryland until its closing in 2012. While there, he was a founding member of the reconstituted Pikesville Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Pikesville Community Growth Corporation. Levin served as the Chamber’s president from 1981-1983 and the Growth Corporation’s president from 1985-1989. He is a long-time board member of the Maryland Taxpayers Association and a regular at the Maryland Thursday Meeting.
Reforming Maryland Richard Falknor on 07 Jun 2015
Organizer Ed Hunter here reports that Tea Party activists will be fanning out over Maryland and Virginia with hard hitting overpass-media messages directed against a corrupt and complacent (and too-often-bipartisan) political establishment.
Photo below shows one such protest north of Baltimore during last Friday’s rush-hour.
Click here to read Daniel Greenfield’s piercing analysis of Baltimore City’s pathology in his “The Incredible Entitlement of the Welfare Lobby”–
“Food stamp use in Baltimore under Obama increased 58%, but even back in 2009, a quarter of Baltimore and a third of its black population were on food stamps. Baltimore already accounts for almost half of the food stamp using households in the entire state.
Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings called for an ‘inclusion revolution’ after the riots, but the revolution in his district happened a while back where a fifth of the households are on food stamps. Even though the household racial split in the seventh is about even, 85% of food stamp households are black. Cummings says that Baltimore needs to be a model for the nation. It’s a hell of a model.
The nation can’t survive turning into Baltimore. The city is subsidized by Maryland taxpayers, a state full of bedroom communities for consultants and employees of the Federal government. Maryland didn’t become the richest state in America through entrepreneurship and hard work, but by siphoning off massive Federal spending. Billions have already been ‘massively invested’ in Baltimore with no return.”
“The incredible entitlement of the welfare lobby has to end if the inner city is to have a future.”
Stay tuned for more Overpass Media.
Reforming Maryland admin on 11 May 2015
By Contributor Jeff Levin**
Last week, Len Lazarick, editor and publisher of MarylandReporter.com posted a brief essay, entitled, “Political prosecution of police helps restore order in Baltimore,” in which he praised the Baltimore City state’s attorney’s “calculated political decision to prosecute six” police officers.
Declared Lazarick: “you have to wonder what kind of weekend Baltimore would have had if she” had not.
If you are like me and thought on first reading that the editor could not have meant what he seems to be saying, Lazarick doubles down in the rest of his post on the prosecutor’s wisdom of responding positively to the message of the rioters and concludes:
“Mosby [the state’s attorney] may have ruined the careers of six cops who may or may not be guilty of a crime. But she certainly restored the peace of Baltimore this weekend, and perhaps moved the city and its police force toward a better and more balanced relationship.”
How does editor Lazarick respond to a commenter’s objection that prominent legal scholar, Alan Dershowitz, says prosecutors are not supposed to do political prosecutions ?
“I sincerely doubt Dershowitz’s position is something so simplistic.”
Mr. Editor, here are some points you have overlooked:
- Even if we simplistic people set aside our quaint conceptions of justice and examine your “ends justify the means” argument on its face, State’s Attorney Mosby and Baltimore City cannot achieve “peace” with means that reward lawbreaking.
- When you reward mass lawbreaking you create the incentive for more lawbreaking whenever the mob doesn’t get what it wants. What happens if some of the charges are dismissed by law abiding judges or juries acquit on some or all of the charges?
- If in the unlikely event Mosby prevails on all charges all the way through the Supreme Court, what happens the next time the mob is unhappy about anything? What happens the next time a Baltimore police officer of any color harms a black person in the course of his police work?
- The grievance against the perceived malfeasance of the police had nothing to do with the looting and burning of private businesses and homes. Many of the Mondawmin Mall looters were matrons who drove up to the door in late model cars and minivans with sun roofs.
- Baltimore City has a history of looting – not too many years ago, the precipitating event was a fall ice storm that made vehicular travel impossible for about 45 minutes during rush hour. As soon as word got out that the police could not respond, looting began in the same area as the recent events.
- What viewers from all over our country and the world saw was looting and destruction of property in close vicinity to large numbers of police: sworn officers who made no attempt – apparently under orders from the mayor and police chief – to stop the criminal acts.
- Rational people and businesses everywhere will have concluded that if you get in trouble in Baltimore City, you are on your own, and many of them will have placed Baltimore very far down on their list of places to visit or invest in or live.
- State’s Attorney Mosby’s bizarre charges make future police crime intervention more difficult. While many of us can comprehend the manslaughter counts, the assault and false imprisonment charges appear to be based on nothing more than, according to Mosby, the police may have mistakenly arrested Freddie Gray based on what they discovered after they had already forcibly detained him.
- Any police officer who fears prosecution for making a good faith mistake is much less likely to pursue fleeing suspects than before. Criminals will be quick to figure out this new reluctance to apprehend them and act accordingly. There has already been a substantial violent crime increase: see the Baltimore Sun last Saturday — “Violence surges as Baltimore police officers feel hesitant”.
- The primary victims of an increase in Baltimore City’s already high violent crime rate will be the ordinary residents of neighborhoods like Gray’s Sandtown-Winchester, but all of Baltimore City’s citizens and businesses will pay a steep price.
- The larger context of the horrific events of the past several weeks is the longstanding, very high Baltimore City violent crime rate. Police everywhere have dangerous jobs, but in Baltimore City, they have especially dangerous jobs that have forced them to interact with and confront criminals repeatedly. This is not work that creates warm feelings toward the police among the confronted and the families of the confronted. Freddie Gray apparently was a small time pusher who had had many such confrontations. Police officers, like all humans, are imperfect and err, both intentionally and unintentionally.
- State’s Attorney Mosby and the mayor and the police chief had a chance to stand up to the mob, explain the facts of life to it, and forcibly deter the violence. In due course, Mosby could have issued a sound indictment that explained clearly to conscientious police officers what avoidable bad behavior would not be tolerated. Instead, they incentivized looting and burning and simultaneously confused the police about what they would and would not be criminally liable for.
- The mayor’s accepted invitation to the U. S. Department of Justice to study Baltimore’s police department will increase exponentially officers’ reluctance to confront criminals.
Lost conventions, higher property insurance rates, and higher municipal bond interest rates are already in the cards for Baltimore City’s citizens, businesses and government. The increasing disintegration of public order owing to police officers’ confusion about how to do their jobs without getting indicted will cause more and more citizens, customers, and businesses to “vote with their feet” and set out for safer pastures. And a future bankruptcy for Baltimore City is not out of question.
** Jeff Levin has law and business degrees from Columbia University. He practiced labor law in Baltimore until his father’s sudden death in 1975 when he began managing his family’s retail business in Pikesville, Maryland until its closing in 2012. While there, he was a founding member of the reconstituted Pikesville Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Pikesville Community Growth Corporation. Levin served as the Chamber’s president from 1981-1983 and the Growth Corporation’s president from 1985-1989. He is a long-time board member of the Maryland Taxpayers Association and a regular at the Maryland Thursday Meeting.
Reforming Maryland Peter Samuel on 22 Jan 2015
Transportation Recommendations For MD Governor Larry Hogan: Red & Purple Rail Projects; MD Initiative Across The Potomac
UPDATE JANUARY 26! Also weighing in, Maryland investigator and author Ken Timmerman declared yesterday “End the ‘light’ rail boondoggle” in the Frederick News-Post. Former U. S. House candidate Timmerman explained: “Maryland has better ways to spend our highway tax money — such as improving our highways and bridges. Why not a second Potomac crossing, for example, linking the I-270 corridor to the Reston-Dulles area in northern Virginia, where many Frederick residents work?”
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Newly inaugurated Maryland governor Larry Hogan campaigned against the Red and Purple Rail Lines, correctly seeing them as too expensive and lower in priority than roads.
Consequently he has a mandate to put the two light rail projects on an immediate hold and under comprehensive review.
These projects are beloved of local politicians, the media, and elements of the business community. Thus he will face loud and incessant attack if he appears irresolute in considering them.
The governor needs to authorize hearings and studies to re-examine the projects’ ridership estimates and costs, and to reveal the risks of over-runs.
Most important — such an examination must answer the long-term question of whether these projects could ever pay their way in fares and must estimate the fiscal implications of anticipated annual losses for the state.
Project advocates list all the jobs created during construction, but this is only a measure of cost, and avoids the real question: what value are they creating?
In any enterprise there is positive net value if the users are paying sufficient user fees (fares) to both cover operating costs and provide a competitive return on capital (ROI).
To the extent fares won’t cover costs plus return on capital, we have a clear measure that the value to users falls short of costs, making the project a net loss to any operator.
Rail transit in Maryland presently collects in the ‘farebox’ less than 30 cents on the dollar spent on operating the system and, of course, makes no return on capital invested. Light rail is the very worst with lower farebox recovery (currently under 20 cents per dollar.)
Some of those results could be improved, but almost no rail system in America come close to the black (100 on the dollar + ROI).
Heavy rail (WMATA and Baltimore Metros and MARC) makes inherent sense, taking commuters to dense downtown job locations like Washington, D.C., where car parking is difficult and buses are slow. Of course the WMATA Metrorail could be operated more efficiently, perhaps with its components privatized; it also could collect more in fares, but it’s a regional system and Maryland is only one voice in its management.
The Red and Purple Rail Projects
In Baltimore, the Red Line design uses light rail imaginatively — in tunnel for about a third of its length, where independence from road traffic is helpful downtown, and running on the street outside downtown. It’s a radial line from the end of I-70 in Woodlawn to many downtown locations, with a crosstown segment that could pick up some shorter in-town trips. Ridership should be pretty predictable.
My big question would be if all the Red Line tunnels, elaborate underground stations, and utility relocations can be built anywhere near the costs cited. Its complexity in its quite lengthy downtown Baltimore stretch makes it a candidate for awesome cost overruns.
The Purple Line (mainly Montgomery County) has almost opposite — well different — problems. It is more easily costed because its construction is rather straightforward — basically an at-grade trolley in its own right of way.
It is circumferential, not radial, to its metro area and won’t serve any dense concentrated employment centers, making its ridership projections and revenues extremely speculative. Ridership of the Purple Line could be tiny compared to the forecasts, a total fiasco.
The Purple Line should be a bus route, not rail.
Not only are the vehicles a fraction of the cost of light-rail pairs, but buses are flexible and their routes can be developed incrementally in response to demand.
Key segments could be built quickly as dedicated busways while the entire line goes into operation with the other segments running in local streets.
An incrementally developed Purple Line would be staged: decisions to proceed with each dedicated busway shaped by ridership levels and assessing the value of taking the busway further.
Such a staged approach would reduce the risk to the state’s finances.
But Roads Are The Real Mass Transit System
But roads are the metro areas real mass transit system, carrying over three-quarters of commuters, virtually all the freight and service vehicles, and all the emergency-services traffic.
Traffic has been growing more slowly for the past decade than it did in the 20th century, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need major investment and reform of roads.
(For several years we have had a decline in per-capita vehicle miles traveled across America. Some of this may be long lasting — owing to the internet and how it allows us to do a lot of shopping online, and some of our work at home or otherwise remotely. But some of this decline is caused by a stagnant economy, so driving may revive with an improved economy.)
Similarly there has been some move back to the city. Washington, D. C., and Baltimore have managed to reverse the long decline in population; more people are living close enough to walk to work. This is hopeful, but the new ‘gentrified’ inner-area housing is spread out. It remains to be seen how far this area will expand, and how much it will affect road traffic.
Upgrading The Regional Road Network Now
Regardless of future traffic, we have some serious choke points in the regional road network that need fixing now.
The traffic overloads today are so severe that small future changes in driving won’t make much difference.
In Maryland the greatest deficiency is the capacity of the Capital Beltway. The Beltway from at least Greenbelt west is the scene of huge congestion, both chronic and episodic.
One relief option discussed is to extend the 495 toll express lanes that Transurban built from north of their present end just beyond Tysons Corner over the Potomac into Maryland, by widening the American Legion Bridge (ALB) then extending them up I-270.
During his campaign Larry Hogan referred to this approach. It is in the Metropolitan Washington Council on Governments long-range plans.
But this would be a very difficult and expensive construction job — so many interchanges to rebuild and all under traffic.
It is 10 and 12 lanes already, so this approach would take it to 14 and 16 lanes: more easily costed because construction would be rather straightforward, providing just 2 x 2 toll express lanes. I doubt, however, that the future tolls could pay for it.
A Bold Initiative Across The Potomac
Here governor Hogan has an opportunity for a bold initiative.
A better alternative to 495/270 improvements would a completely new tollroad: a direct link between the Intercounty Connector (ICC) MD 200 in Gaithersburg and the Dulles area, with a connection to VA28 at Leesburg Pike.
VA7-ICC-west, as I call it, would be 15 miles long, all but 1.5 miles in Maryland. Construction-wise, it would be very straightforward compared to widening the Beltway/I-270.
Potomac River bridgework would be much simpler and a lower level than at the American Legion Bridge, where the Potomac is in a deep gorge. There would be almost no traffic to interfere with construction — versus difficult night work all the way on the Beltway. Just two interchanges are needed — one at each end, versus some 16 interchanges on the Beltway and I-270 up to Gaithersburg.
Governor Hogan could start with planning studies and alternatives analysis.
My estimates are —
- The ICC-West to VA28 would be very successful as a tollroad, whereas I’m doubtful about the financial viability of additional Beltway toll lanes, because of the huge cost of construction.
- That it would be a very attractive new direct connection between the two largest jurisdictions of the Washington-Baltimore metro area: Montgomery county Maryland (1.01m pop) and Fairfax county Virginia (1.12m pop)
- Gaithersburg to Dulles Airport, for example, would be 22 miles via IC-west — or perhaps 20 minutes versus 29 miles 270/495/267 and an average of an hour and very unpredictable. The ICC-west Gaithersburg to Tysons would be twice the distance — 32 miles ICC-West vs 16 miles on the 270/495 route — but at least in present conditions the average travel time would not be much different and the western U-route ICC-west/267 would probably be more reliable and more relaxing a drive.
Another consideration is that the American Legion Bridge as the sole river crossing on the west side of the metropolitan area makes us vulnerable to huge disruption should it ever be closed for any length of time.
Consider how the regional economy would be affected if Islamists were to blow up columns of the American Legion Bridge and bring it down. Even a temporary bridge would take months to deploy, the gorge is so deep there. The Maryland suburbs and Northern Virginia would be isolated from one another for many months, perhaps a full year.
In a joint op-ed in the Washington Post (Jan 2, 2015) the longtime Northern Virginia transport consultant Alan Pisarski and I argued for the Intercounty Connector (ICC)-west and also for an ICC-east which would extend the ICC clockwise from US1 to US50 near Bowie. (scroll down to map below).
This could provide an alternative route NoVa/Montgomery Co to Annapolis and the Eastern Shore. These projects would of course be heavily contested by Greens and transit enthusiasts, but then, so was the existing ICC heavily contested. Under former governor Bob Ehrlich’s leadership, the naysaying doom-mongers ‘veto’ on the ICC was overridden and a valuable new highway got built.
Its full potential will only be realized, I suggest, with the extensions east and west.
If these extensions can be built as self-financing toll projects, then governor Hogan may leave a great legacy in transportation.
NOTE: click on the following map, which was drawn mainly to indicate the general location of proposed ICC-east and ICC-west. The map shows a few other road projects that seem to me important, but there’s no analysis behind their selection. Others not shown may turn out to deserve higher priority.
–Peter Samuel of British and Australian upbringing has an academic background in economics, finance, and urban planning. In the U.S. from 1980 to 1992 he wrote as a daily reporter on defense and foreign policy. Then, as a freelance writer, he specialized in critical writing on the environmental movement. A longtime friend of Robert Poole, he wrote first on roads for Poole’s Reason magazine: click here. An article on toll roads commissioned by Forbes magazine in 1996 led him to specialize in reporting on the toll-roads business, first in a low circulation monthly Toll Roads Newsletter, that he established, then in the web-based TOLLROADSnews, which he sold to new management at the end of 2013. In the U.S. since 1980 he has lived in the New York area, in N.W. Washington D.C., and since 1992 in Frederick County, Maryland. He currently lives in 19th century downtown Frederick.
Reforming Maryland Peter Samuel on 21 Jan 2015
Governor Larry Hogan should enunciate two key objectives for state transport agencies, objectives that good government demands across the board — fairness and efficiency.
Fairness and efficiency will be best served by moving toward transport systems that self-finance with user fees: more precisely, fees-for-use roads should finance themselves with fees based on the cost of providing road service, road use fees, or tolls based on the distance traveled, the scarcity of road space, and the costs the vehicles impose.
For the first time modern technology allows this to be done free flow.
And transit too should pay its way with fares. The new governor should articulate this as his ideal, something not capable of being immediately implemented but as something we should be moving toward. The objective should be to steadily cut back and eventually eliminate the use of taxes and license fees for transportation.
Governor Hogan could propose immediate cuts in license fees. These should only finance vehicle inspections and operation of the motor registries. They are being misused when they are made a source of revenue. As revenue sources they unfairly penalize the people who make minimal use of the roads and transit.
Users should be paying according to use — this should be governor’s Hogan’s message.
Such a market-based strategy of self-financing road and transit providers would contain costs to the value of service provided and customers’ willingness to pay for service.
Road service and transit service also need to be viewed as self-financing service businesses rather than as tax-funded pork to be butchered and divided up by special interests and politicians.
The new governor should ask the General Assembly to reduce the state gasoline and diesel tax rates to reduce their burden on the people and the businesses of the Old Line State.
Linked to this should be devolution of responsibility to the level of government of the people most affected.
The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA), for example, should only be involved in roads of importance to the state as a whole.
It should cease to support projects of mostly local benefit. In Frederick County where I live the SHA is being asked to fund new local interchanges with I-70 and US15 on the north and south edges, and to upgrade collector roads in Frederick City and its vicinity.
These projects are of purely local benefit. Taxpayers from outside Frederick County should not be paying for them. They get no benefit. Similarly we in Frederick County get little benefit from many SHA projects in other counties. If the role of the SHA is reduced to projects of true statewide significance and most of the pork barrel local projects left to county and city government, then the state gas tax can be reduced substantially.
Devolution of responsibility to the level of government of major beneficiaries will not only be fairer but it is likely to be more efficient.
If the money is “from Annapolis” for local interchanges and collector roads, we have every incentive here in Frederick to load the project with extras in the planning and public consultation process — extra lanes, extra bike paths, extra landscaping, extra ‘esthetic’ features.
The present favorites are fake stone, fake brickwork on bridge beams and Romanesque arches for piers. If the county has to pay it’s more likely these frills will be dispensed with.
More so still if road service is put out to road service companies with the right to recoup costs in road use charges (tolls.)
The theme of project self-financing should, for political reasons, be applied to new projects first. A new service should be able to pay its ways with tolls in the case of roads — or fares in the case of transit. As roads are rebuilt or rail given major rehab, projects should be based on fees for use, tolls, and fares. Motor license fees and gas taxes should decline in line with the move to fee-for-use.
Users are the beneficiaries of transport services and, it needs to be said again and again, users should pay for those services directly.
Governments’ role in raising and allocating transport resources needs to be reduced — that should be the principle.
More customer-oriented service and lower taxes and fees as well as being the right thing to do, should be a winner with the electorate.
Second, the new Governor should propose several commonsense reforms:
- a realistic maximum speed limit such as 80 mph;
- actual speed limits to be set by the 85th or 90th percentile of observed speeds;
- a legislated rule on red-light-cameras yellow time;
- ending enforcement as revenue raising — the net proceeds of speeding and red-light fines to go into a fund for blameless motor accident victims, not kept by jurisdictions as income.
There is nothing wrong with red-light and speed cameras as such. The problem has been the incentives to abuse by local governments. They’ve become a moneymaker for local jurisdictions. They’ve been compounding public anger with absurdly low speed limits making scofflaws of mostly safe drivers. Governor Hogan should say this is wrong, and that it undermines respect for the law.
Once speed limits are raised to realistic levels and only cover dangerous driving, then the most advanced camera technology should be used. State troopers and county police have more important duties than manning speed traps.
Third, in contradiction to the negative and erroneous leftist-green notion that automobile use should be suppressed, governor Hogan should stress the positive value of efficient mobility.
Better mobility provides greater employment opportunities, better shopping choices, more specialized health and medical services, more social and family interaction, better education, sporting. and recreational opportunities.
Our travel is not frivolous. People don’t drive the Capital Beltway for the scenery. We travel because the trips provide value.
They save us time and money, and enhance our opportunities. We live in or travel to large metropolitan areas to take advantage of their vast human potential.
It has become a Left-Green commandment: “Thou shalt build no new road, because it will induce extra traffic, which is evil.”
But extra travel, extra trips are not bad, so long as the trip-makers are paying, in user-charges, the costs of the service. So long as fares and tolls are covering costs, extra travel is providing positive net value and enriches us. That is simple economics.
Governor Hogan’s administration should push back against the notion that traffic is bad. Traffic congestion is bad, to be sure, but the Left and the Greens want to reduce traffic (travel) or to make road travel so miserable people, in desperation, will take the supposedly green modes — rail, biking, or walking.
“We’re not going to tell any Marylander they need to ‘get out of their car.’” Gov Hogan should say. “We respect Marylanders’ judgement and respect their right to make their own choices of travel. We reject the notion of a system rigged by politicians to coerce people to embrace the green-left’s love affair with the train.”
Part II next: A bold initiative across the Potomac, and the Red and Purple rail projects.