GREATER WASHINGTON won't reach consensus any time soon on transportation and growth issues, but even a little movement by the governors of Maryland and Virginia is welcome. Parris Glendening and Jim Gilmore are trumpeting their latest transportation packages as history-making commitments, even as each acknowledges that the sums are inadequate in that still more must be found over the long run to address the region's staggering congestion problems. But no single, comprehensive, regional transportation action plan has been in place for three decades--only wish lists drawn up by commissions and other study groups. For now, the governors' separate proposals must win support in Annapolis and Richmond if any serious progress is to be made.
With the exception of money for a new Wilson Bridge, the plans of Virginia and Maryland are each for in-state projects. The common transportation needs of the area can't be properly coordinated until a regional transportation authority is established to settle on projects and build them with funds from all participating governments. Bills to create a working coalition ought to be approved in both capitals this year.
One significant thread: Both governors are talking money for rapid rail transit--the first additions to the almost-completed original Metrorail network. Gov. Glendening's budget calls for extending the Blue Line in Prince George's County, Gov. Gilmore's for extending Metrorail to Tysons Corner. Along with money for express bus service along the Dulles Access Road, mass transit appears to be in for a needed boost.
Gov. Glendening's transportation budget calls for a 43 percent increase from last year, with $300 million for projects in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. The governor also has decided to resume borrowing for projects now that much of the debt that had accumulated for roads and mass transit has been paid down. Still, a state commission has said Maryland needs to spend nearly $27 billion more than planned over the next 20 years too keep pace with traffic. To help meet this tab, legislation introduced by Maryland House Speaker Casper Taylor to devote a portion of the sales tax to transit ought to be passed this year.
Gov. Gilmore proposes to spend an additional $2.5 billion on transportation over six years. This would add about $400 million a year in new construction money to the roughly $1.5 million already budgeted for highways and transit. However much ends up in Northern Virginia, it won't be enough; the region's top transportation panel, the Northern Virginia Transportation Coordinating Council, has said an additional $14 billion is necessary by 2020 just to keep traffic from getting worse.
While neither state is likely to come up with more money now than is sought by the two governors, public pressure for traffic relief continues. Last week three organizations that have locked horns on transportation and land-use issues--the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Coalition for Smarter Growth--announced that they will jointly lobby local and Virginia state politicians for transit improvements and land-use policies. This includes a rail line serving the Tysons-Dulles Corridor area.
This constructive spirit cannot overshadow the need for road and bridge projects about which these new allies and other groups do not agree but which must be completed, including the Wilson Bridge replacement, additional Potomac crossings and cross-county highway links in suburban Maryland. The added money will be useful, but the transportation news remains mixed. Inertia and political cowardice have stifled progress for too long.