The Eastern Shore Land Conservancy Conference on Traffic Congestion

The Conference opened with this expectation: “This is your opportunity to learn more about all of the traffic mitigation concepts on the table — from high-speed toll lanes and potential mass transit options to creating tech-friendly workspaces where commuters can work remotely — there are solutions that can be incorporated now and we intend to focus on them.”

Background to the Conference – Last year ESLC issued a statement on a New Automobile-oriented Chesapeake Bay Bridge Crossing:

“Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC) is strongly opposed to any new auto-oriented Chesapeake Bay Bridge crossing and instead favors a suite of pragmatic traffic mitigation measures to immediately lessen congestion and improve public safety.

The current side-by-side Bay Bridge spans have led to intense housing sprawl and thousands of acres of habitat, farmland, and sensitive landscapes being permanently lost to development. Any new bridge crossing location could also dramatically affect the working landscapes, ecological balance, and overall rural character of the region.

With an emphasis on safety and immediate congestion mitigation, ESLC calls for a more future-oriented and cost-sensitive approach to transportation planning – specifically one that: 1) makes the most out of the existing infrastructure; 2) encourages transformational improvements in transit; and 3) considers the future consequences of new transportation investment on the communities, landscape, and climate vulnerabilities of the Eastern Shore.”

The first presenter, Heather Murphy, is Director for the Maryland Office of Planning and Capital Programming. She presented conclusions form a number of studies conducted since 2007:

  • She pointed out that ferry service cost is too high for the consumer, and ridership too low to make an impact on the current travel across the bridge, she said. Daily, 118,000 vehicles cross the bridge during the summer season, and 68,000 daily in the off peak, according to 2017 numbers.
  • Aside from a potential decrease in traffic congestion, other considerations should be given to the effect on possible economic development, environmental concerns and even homeland security with connections in close proximity to Washington, Murphy said.
  • Overall, ferries offer a very small number of cars to potentially be removed from the bridge daily. Therefore, they are not a solution to congestion on the Bay Bridge.
  • At least one of the routes being in a town that is a destination point furthers the feasibility of this mode of transportation, and passenger-to-vehicle ratios suggest walk-on passengers are one consideration, leading to the absolute necessity of other modes of transportation once travelers reach their destination point.

The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) also continues to look at other modes of transit. Studies have focused on commuter traffic and compared with 2017 daily traffic rates would remove only 1 percent of vehicles from the bridge during peak travel times — and in the instance of bus transit would reduce the number of lanes in use by passenger vehicles from five to four, with one lane being dedicated for bus use, or, in the case of heavy or light rail, would still necessitate the building of another bridge.

MDOT has established a program to address traffic congestion. COMMUTER CHOICE MARYLAND promotes alternative options to driving alone to work such as public transportation, ridesharing, vanpooling, walking, biking, teleworking and flexible work schedules. These would help reduce congestion, conserve energy, protect the environment and facilitate economic opportunity.

Finally, Director Murphy announced that MDOT will hold open hearings on Bridge prospects next Spring.

 

Question: Should our QAC Democratic Club participate in these Hearings, with what extent of involvement?

 

Note: Ben Smith, the Executive Director of our Maryland Democratic Party, recently commented on Governor Hogan’s latest transportation proposals (especially I – 270). “Governor Hogan is trying to invest in highway expansion instead of public transportation. On its face, it seems that he’s pushing to alleviate — or at least reduce — traffic which seems like a good (though uncertain) goal. But it’s being carried out at the expense of expanding public transit, which can serve infinitely more people.”

 

Question: Should our Democratic Club develop position(s) on these kinds of issues?

 

The next presentations addressed Traffic Congestion Mitigation. Speakers made a number of different or alternative points:

  • “More bridges equal more cars” was a point that several made
  • Development does not pay for itself
  • We must consider economic impacts vs. environmental impact: food is a global issue, farming is a solution to climate change
  • We need more land for farms (that are well-managed, carbon neutral) – no farms, no food, no future

Steve Cohoon, Public Facilities Planner for Queen Anne’s County, emphasized that we need to be concerned about the impact of a new bridge on QAC – business, health, economy, recreation, real estate values. At the end of the session he was asked how QAC might deal with the opening of the new Delaware Rt 301 Mainline Road which is projected to move16,000 vehicles per day (the majority of them trucks). Most will be streaming into and out of QAC. His response: The County will be “monitoring the situation.” But no direct action was mentioned.

 

Question: Should QAC and/or Maryland negotiate with Delaware to settle Rt 301 traffic impact issues?

 

Dan Nataf is the Director, Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College. His Center has conducted several surveys of Anne Arundel residents on Traffic Congestion. Findings include:

  • Most important problems include transportation
  • Development, Transportation, Environment as a cluster ranks near the top, growing steadily since 2009. It is second only to Crime/Drugs
  • Traffic Congestion continues to draw citizen pessimism.
  • When asked if “County efforts have made the problem: Better, the Same or Worse”, 71% said Worse
  • “Anne Arundel County has done an excellent job maintaining its roads” 32% said Yes, 63% said No
  • “Maryland has a very effective transportation system” 41% Yes, 50% No
  • “Expanding the current Bay Bridge so that it can handle more traffic” 66% Yes, 25% No
  •  “Increasing bus services from the Eastern Shore to destinations in Anne Arundel County and to the DC metro system” 71% Yes, 16% No
  •  “Building a commuter rail line on Route 50 from the Eastern Shore to the DC metro system with a stop in Annapolis” 62% Yes, 27% No
  • The survey found a real reluctance by citizens to directly pay for solutions
  • One proposal: “Increase the corporate income tax rate by one percent, adding $100 million per year to the transportation fund” 57% Yes, 39% No
  •  Democrats are more willing to consider such a tax (50% agree) than Republicans (26% agree)
  • Overall Conclusion: The Public wants solutions to traffic issues

What will be the political cost for inaction regarding traffic congestion? • Growing cynicism about government competency • Lack of trust in politicians • Premise of developer control over growth priorities is higher density but inadequate infrastructure.

Reluctance to pay more for traffic solutions means we must find creative solutions, such as rethinking our development model if financing for additional capacity isn’t forthcoming.

 

Question: Should QAC conduct these kinds of surveys? We could involve Chesapeake College and its students. Dan Nataf is interested in such a project, and recently did a presentation for the Kent County Democratic Club.

 

Panels on the Future of Mobility on the Eastern Shore raised these questions, issues, and possible solutions:

  • Can UBER for QAC be a reality?
  • Other options: bike share, micro mobility vans/small busses
  • Drone delivery of merchandise
  • We will have to charge fees for roads use, etc.
  • Freight mobility: we need a connected world
  • Ideas: truck platooning, dedicated lanes, reduce bottle-necks
  • Smart traffic control: “intersections are dumb” because 40% of fuel use is wasted in idling. This costs $60 Billion per year in USA. Traffic lights are programed for average conditions, not specific situations
  • Example of solution: Pittsburg’s SURTRAC: real time data for intersections, intersections tracked to each other = 30% fewer stops
  • Self-driving cars, smart infrastructure
  • Other ideas: carpool, vanpool, walking, biking, compressed work week, increase tele-work.

 

Many of the Slides employed by presenters can be accessed on this ESLC link:

https://www.eslc.org/events/conference-materials/?mc_cid=22c901e17f&mc_eid=321e7570be

This article was compiled by James Parker, QAC Democratic Club member. 

References: Eastern Shore Land Conservancy website and personal notes

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