Anthony G. Brown, a Democrat, represents Maryland’s 4th District in the U.S. House. He was lieutenant governor of Maryland from 2007 to 2015. He ran for governor in 2014 against Larry Hogan.
Our nation’s highway system has been neglected for far too long. That neglect is costing Americans their time, their money and, tragically, their lives. Making a major investment in our infrastructure is a top priority in Washington and in state capitols across the country.
But it’s not enough to simply rebuild our roads and fix our bridges; we need to reinvest in a modern, interconnected transportation network for future generations.
That is why I am concerned about Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) proposal to expand 70 miles of interstate in Maryland by simply adding toll lanes: It is a shortsighted plan reflecting 1960s ideas that will do little to improve congestion, accommodate new technologies or behaviors or address the growing impact of climate change.
The U.S. interstate system was a key engine of economic growth in the 20th century, connecting workers to better-paying jobs, modernizing supply lines and increasing business productivity and personal mobility. Yet new highways no longer significantly boost economic activity. Decades of traffic data across the United States show that increasing road capacity does not improve traffic. Instead, widening highways just encourages people to drive more and travel longer distances, ultimately increasing congestion.
Short-term benefits after multibillion-dollar expansion projects often disappear in as little as three to five years. We experienced this in Maryland after Interstate 270 was widened to 12 lanes in the 1990s and when the Intercounty Connector and an expanded Woodrow Wilson Bridge resulted in limited traffic relief. In the Baltimore region, highway expansion outpaced population growth over the past two decades, but time spent in traffic quadrupled. This example is repeated across the country, including after the $1.6 billion expansion of Interstate 405 in Los Angeles and the $2.8 billion expansion of Houston’s 26-lane Katy Freeway.
This changing landscape makes it clear that we cannot simply build our way out of this problem. The billions spent on these kinds of projects can be invested better.
Maryland must embrace big thinking and acknowledge that the current paradigm — one person in one car, burning gas on congested roads in rush hour — is no longer sustainable. Driving can’t be the only option for Marylanders. Our congestion problems are fundamentally tied to a lack of transportation choices and old decisions to separate housing, jobs and services.
We have a rare opportunity to invest in a modern transportation network that gives residents access to more reliable travel choices and that enhances intraregional travel while adding bike and pedestrian infrastructure to support communities where families live, work and play. We can do more to change behavior and take cars off the road; data already shows millennials are driving less and more people are working flexible hours, telecommuting or working from home. These are among the most effective approaches to relieving traffic and generating economic growth.
Unfortunately, Hogan rejected out of hand every other option to improve mobility — rail, bus rapid transit and transportation demand management. This was on full display when the governor barely studied alternatives to his toll lane plan and defunded the Corridor Cities Transitway along I-270. The visionless Hogan administration is only committed to more asphalt.
Democrats and Republicans share a commitment to making our region the best place to work, raise a family and build a business. This requires a transportation network designed for the decades ahead. We must incentivize public transit use, promote affordable housing and encourage technological innovation that reduces traffic and takes cars off the road. Building more highways does not accomplish this or make our region attractive to employers. Already, companies — including Marriott and Amazon — are locating near transit hubs just as more families are choosing to live in mixed-use, transit-oriented, high-density developments.
Maryland has always prided itself on pursuing forward-looking solutions to the challenges confronting working families. Hogan’s billion-dollar Beltway boondoggle is a step backward. We must instead address the underlying problems feeding Maryland’s traffic woes, wake up to the reality that we can’t keep jamming more cars onto our roads and embrace new innovative solutions that create a transportation system that works for everyone. We can’t build for the future with old ideas.