MARC: Rolling in the right direction

The Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013 will provide crucially needed funding for improving, expanding and building transportation projects throughout Maryland. Projects critical to continued economic growth throughout Central Maryland — such as the Red Line in Baltimore, the Purple Line in Prince George's and Montgomery counties, highway projects in Harford and Howard counties, and expansion of the MARC commuter rail service — can now move forward.

The dedication of $100 million to the MARC system to fund weekend service on the Penn Line, add two more trains on the Camden Line during weekday hours, and purchase new locomotives is a major step forward in creating a regional rail system that both supports and is a catalyst for economic development. To continue to invest in more MARC service as well as capital projects such as new and upgraded stations will only serve to increase the return on investment that a robust regional transit system, with MARC as the unifying component, will bring to Central Maryland.

MARC is the backbone of that regional system. It unites the two largest metropolitan areas in the state and serves a number of major job growth centers, including Fort Meade, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Baltimore City, BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, New Carrollton, downtown Silver Spring and the growth along the I-270 corridor. The opportunities for expanding service are significantly greater on the MARC Penn Line, which runs on track owned by Amtrak. Service on the Camden and Brunswick lines, which run on track owned by CSX, is limited to morning and afternoon peak commuting hours Monday through Friday due to the need to keep the track unfettered for CSX's freight rail business (a major contributor to the growth and vitality of the Port of Baltimore and the entire state). However, given that Howard, Montgomery and Frederick counties, as well as significant portions of Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties, are only served by the Camden and Brunswick lines, the state and CSX must engage in meaningful discussion on how to expand MARC service to these jurisdictions.

Connecting Washington with Baltimore is not only "worthwhile," as The Sun stated in a recent editorial, it is critical to Baltimore's economic growth and vitality. Weekend service on the Penn Line will certainly support Baltimore's significant tourism and convention business, and it will be a major asset in Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's campaign to grow the city by 10,000 families in 10 years. More importantly, however, is that a robust MARC system will provide city residents greater access to jobs throughout the region — particularly transit-dependent residents who are being prepared for entry-level career pathway jobs in the region's growing employment centers outside of the urban core.

This trend has been validated in study after study. According to the Baltimore Metropolitan Council's long-term projections for regional employment growth from 2000-2035, job growth in the city will increase by approximately 5 percent, while in the surrounding counties it is projected to grow by approximately 40 percent. Baltimore's share of the state's total employment fell from 33 percent in 1970 to just over 10 percent in 2011, according to a study by the University of Maryland, College Park's National Center for Smart Growth. A study issued last summer by the Brookings Institution shows that residents in Baltimore can access only 17 percent of the jobs in the metro area within a 90-minute transit ride. That is not what I would call "access to jobs."

The access needed to support job growth; accessibility to jobs, educational opportunities and health services; residential growth; and tourism requires a robust, interconnected and coordinated system of mass transit and highways. Weekend service on the MARC begins to establish that system, but the state must not stop there. Additional late night service, midday express service, and more service from Baltimore north to serve the growth in Harford County are all necessary components of a regional transit system.

But MARC does not stand alone. The future Red Line light rail line in Baltimore County and Baltimore City will create an east/west transit line critically needed in the city, a light rail line that will also greatly benefit the entire greater Baltimore region by connecting to MARC via a future Bayview MARC station and an upgraded West Baltimore MARC Station. MARC will also connect to the future Purple Line light rail and the planned Corridor Cities Transitway in Montgomery County. MARC already connects to the D.C. Metro at a number of locations. The value of any single rail line lies in its connectivity to other transit lines and its robust service.

Last, but hardly least, the MARC system supports a number of transit-oriented development (TOD) projects in the Baltimore/D.C. area. TOD is not just the flavor of the month for transit advocates; it is grounded in sound economic policy. Concentrating residential and commercial development at transit stations reduces sprawl and congestion, maximizes the return on investment for public infrastructure such as roads and utilities, and provides the lifestyle that increasingly attracts both millennials and empty-nesters who do not want to depend on a car 24/7.

The political leaders who made the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act happen deserve thanks. Weekend service on the Penn Line is a great start to what should be a plan of continued investment to expand a rail system that unites and fosters the economic synergies between greater Baltimore and D.C. and its suburbs. Our region and its people deserve no less.

Michele Whelley is president and CEO of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance. Her email is

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