All Talk, No Action: Hogan’s Fanciful Dreams Hurt Maryland Transportation Infrastructure

Think about your commute to work this morning.  How long did it take you to get to work?  How much did you shell out for gas, bus fare, or a train ticket?

Commuting is more than a go-to subject for small talk; it’s a critical part of our daily lives that has important policy implications.  In 2014 alone, Americans spent a combined total of 29.6 billion hours commuting.  Auto commuters, who compose the vast majority of the U.S. commuting population, spend about 42 hours each week–and waste nearly $1,000 in idle gas–commuting to and from work.  By impacting how we get to work, transportation policy has the singular potential to either save or waste our time and money–two indispensable resources, particularly for Marylanders who commute within the highly congested Washington/Baltimore metropolitan areas.

In less than three years in office, Governor Larry Hogan has rushed a number of critical transportation projects in an apparent effort to improve his legacy as governor.  Earlier this month, he generated a lot of buzz by announcing that Tesla CEO Elon Musk would begin construction on his fanciful underground Hyperloop transit system between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.  Musk boasts that the Hyperloop’s underground vacuum system will transport passengers from Washington, D.C. to New York City in just under half an hour; the Baltimore-Washington corridor would be the first leg of the larger East Coast route.  Musk has also proposed creating Hyperloops in nearly a dozen other metropolitan areas around the country, none of which have begun construction.

While Musk’s innovation is certainly creative, it has not been tested enough to ensure that it is safe, effective, and environmentally conscious.  In his analysis of the Hyperloop proposal, Baltimore Brew technology writer Alon Levy did not hold back on his criticism of the Musk-Hogan collaboration.  “Musk is not only hawking a wholly unproven system,” he wrote, “but he hasn’t even bothered it has adequate capacity in the event the system does succeed.”  It should also be noted that the federal government, which owns more than two-thirds of the land upon which Musk wants to build, has yet to authorize the project.

Furthermore, the Hyperloop will not improve Marylanders’ commutes as drastically as Hogan claims it will.  Hyperloop travelers will be able to access Baltimore from Washington in 15 minutes, but Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor route completes the same trip in 20 minutes.  This $10-$12 billion project will only shave five minutes off the commute from Washington to Baltimore.  Hogan is dumping Maryland resources into a project with little scientific basis and little positive net impact on Maryland commutes, all for the sake of a good show.

This is not the first time that Hogan has nonsensically embraced fanciful transportation technology.  After riding a magnetic levitation (“MagLev”) transportation prototype in Japan last year, Hogan hurriedly pushed forward studies on developing MagLev lines in Maryland.  General Assembly Delegate Pamela Beidle has pointed out that Hogan refuses to hold a public meeting regarding MagLev development in Linthicum, MD.

He has also ignored questions regarding the practicality of his other transportation projects. In September, he attracted a lot of attention by announcing a $9 billion plan to widen I-270 and parts of I-495 with four extra luxury toll lanes.  His proposal, however, is highly unlikely to come to fruition, as it would require the federal government to fork over control of federal highways to the state of Maryland.  Hogan’s plan also callously punishes low-income commuters by shouldering them with the bulk of traffic congestion simply because they cannot afford to pay an excessive toll fee.

Hogan has also ignored input regarding more moderate changes to existing Maryland transportation infrastructure.  BaltimoreLink, the Maryland Transportation Authority’s $135 million overhaul of Baltimore’s bus system, was deemed “a mess” from passengers impacted by the systems’ confusing new routes.  This summer, Baltimore transit union leaders protested against the revamped system, citing the inconveniences it has caused for drivers and passengers alike.  While Hogan made good on his promise to cut select road tolls, including those for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, his secretive method of doing so hurt Maryland’s larger transit system in the long run.  His move to cut toll fees are projected to reduce critical Maryland Transportation Authority annual revenue by $54 million; Moody’s Investors Service went as far as to label Hogan’s decision a “credit negative.”

Innovation is important, but so is solid infrastructure.  Instead of proposing concrete transportation reforms that would alleviate traffic congestion and improve Marylanders’ day-to-day travels, all Hogan has to offer are pie-in-the-sky plans that will not help Maryland grow beyond his administration.