Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s Bogus Fiscal Conservatism Doesn’t Apply to Highways

"Highway Hogan" when he announced his $9-billion plan to widen state freeways. Photo:  Maryland Department of Transportation/Twitter
"Highway Hogan" when he announced his $9-billion plan to widen state freeways. Photo: Maryland Department of Transportation/Twitter

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan likes to make a big show of being a fiscal conservative.

A Republican elected in a blue state, Hogan said Maryland just couldn’t afford the Baltimore Red Line, a 14-mile light rail route that would have connected low-income, predominantly black neighborhoods to downtown jobs. When he unilaterally decided to kill the $2.9 billion project in 2015, Hogan called it a “wasteful boondoggle.” The decision prompted a civil rights complaint by the national NAACP on the basis that it was racially discriminatory.

Well — surprise, surprise — it turns out when a multi-billion transportation project that doesn’t benefit black city residents catches his eye, Hogan is fine with opening up the spigots.

Yesterday, Hogan announced a $9 billion plan to widen three highways used by the state’s suburban car commuters. He called the widening of Interstate 270, the Capital Beltway, and Maryland Route 295/Baltimore-Washington Parkway “massive and unprecedented” and, even more outrageously, “efficient & cost-effective.”

Hogan’s claims rest on the fact that the new lanes will be tolled and privately financed. But counting on tolls to cover the cost of expensive new roads is often a bad bet, and if things go belly up, the public will be on the hook.

And there’s nothing efficient about expanding highway capacity, generating more traffic, and increasing the appetite for land-devouring sprawl.

To top it off, Hogan is arguing that wider highways are going to lure Amazon’s second headquarters to Baltimore, even though the company explicitly stated it wants to locate near high-capacity transit.

The fact is that Hogan wants to lavish resources on his people — suburban car commuters, not Baltimore residents. Hogan is playing a familiar game of anti-urban identity politics, just like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, or John Kasich in Ohio, or Chris Christie in New Jersey.

More recommended reading today: The Bicycle Blog of Wisconsin reports that Scott Walker rejected requests to veto budget language that will essentially halt any recreational trail building in the state. And the Urban Edge considers how much of Houston’s 667 square miles could be rightly called “urban.”

  • Larry Littlefield

    “But counting on tolls to cover the cost of expensive new roads is often a bad bet, and if things go belly up, the public will be on the hook.”

    They don’t have to be. It depends on what the bond offering says. Which will be an interesting question.

  • bolwerk

    Virginia supposedly did just that with the I-66 tolling project. If it fails to be profitable, the contractors are supposedly stuck with the bills.

    I guess being a vampire state is good for something.

  • Joe

    Innnnn-duuuuuuuuced deeeeeee-manddddddd agggghhhh

  • Jason

    Let’s not pretend that it’s just Republicans pull this shit. Cuomo deserves to be on that list of governors just as much as the three you listed.

  • Matthew Johnson

    “14-mile light rail route that would have connected low-income, predominantly black neighborhoods to downtown jobs. When he unilaterally decided to kill the $2.9 billion project in 2015”

    I had to click on your bio to find out if you were just being intellectually dishonest or if you were just ignorant to the layout of the Baltimore metropolitan area. Low income black neighborhoods are adjacent to downtown Baltimore. In many cases, FREE buses provide transportation to the area, although much of it is within walking distance of a low income neighborhood.

    For example: the Poe Homes Housing Project in one block away from the University of Maryland, Baltimore campus which is a major part of downtown.

  • wklis

    Must… not… anger… the… automobile… gods…! All… must… genuflect… before… them…!

  • Vooch

    that’s why the interstates should be fully privatized

  • S.P. Miller

    Huh? I don’t think she was saying that the Red Line was supposed to connect ALL the low-income areas to Downtown Baltimore.

    There are many, many areas of low-income residences within Baltimore. The areas that would have been serviced by the Red Line are particularly disadvantaged when getting to Downtown and cross town (i.e. East Baltimore to West Baltimore & vise versa), which was another major selling point. The cross town is particularly nice because, if you are familiar with Baltimore, going crosstown is a nightmare (even in a personal automobile), which the Red Line was supposed to alleviate by operating underground Downtown.

    Also, there is no Charm City Circulator (i.e. your “FREE” bus) from where the Red Line was supposed to go in West Baltimore. What’s worse, many of the “FREE” buses do not run deep into West or East Baltimore and do not provide a good transportation alternative for many low income neighborhoods, which you are seemingly implying.

    I’d bone up on your Baltimore geography & bus routes before throwing rocks…

    http://www.red-line-now.com/benefits.html

  • AMH

    No surprises here. The Red Line would have been an excellent investment. It should be clear to anyone that it would have generated WAY more bang for the buck than another highway lane. But it would have benefited the wrong people.

  • Richard

    Take from Baltimore, give to the suburban counties. Tax the blacks, subsidize the whites.

  • cjstephens

    If Angie Schmitt thinks something is wrong, it was probably a good idea.

  • Matthew Johnson

    Ummm, I have lived in Baltimore my entire life. I catch the bus, as do my friends. I’ve lived in west Baltimore, east, and northeast. Getting downtown on the bus is, and has always been, EASY.

  • ocschwar

    9 billion dollars on a bet that MAYBE Amazon will move there? That really fails the giggle test.

  • Dan

    Some animals are still more equal than others.

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