Md. Voters Express Support for Regional Transportation Initiative to Reduce Emissions

Traffic moves across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge along the Capital Beltway. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

A public opinion survey released by backers of a multi-state initiative to reduce vehicle-generated pollution found high levels of support for their proposal. 

The poll, conducted for the Our Transportation Future coalition, found that 70% of residents support the push to get 11 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, including Maryland, to join the Transportation and Climate Initiative.

In Maryland, support was even higher, with 75% of those surveyed voicing support for the initiative. Fourteen percent were opposed and 11% said they were not sure.

Maryland has already committed to joining with other states in the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), but the states have yet to formally agree on a path forward. If a TCI plan is adopted by the 11 states and the District of Columbia, a “carbon pricing system” would go into effect, placing a cap on vehicle-generated carbon emissions. 

Energy companies would then have to purchase “emissions allowances.” Revenue generated from the program could only be used on transportation systems with low greenhouse gas emissions. 

The initiative, which has triggered pushback in other states, would lead to healthier air, improved infrastructure and beefed-up mass transit, advocates have said. They also say it would make it easier for low-income people to access job opportunities. 

“Even before the pandemic, Marylanders were concerned about the climate crisis,” said Brian O’Malley, head of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance. “The transportation sector is the number one source of carbon pollution in Maryland.” 

O’Malley said “essential workers” are the most likely to rely on public transportation, particularly those who work in health care and food distribution.

“In Baltimore, 40% of regular transit riders are essential workers,” he added.  

Because of an assumption that energy companies would pass the cost of carbon credits onto their customers, critics of the Transportation and Climate Initiative call it a backdoor gas tax that would hit lower-wage workers the hardest. 

In Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey, governors are being asked to reconsider their prior support for the initiative. 

Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, acknowledged that support for the TCI drops somewhat, particularly among Republicans, when the public learns of the possible additional costs. But he said multiple polls have found broad backing for the concept as a whole. 

“There’s just very strong support for requiring fossil fuel companies — including gas, oil, coal, etc. — to pay for the pollution that they’re causing,” he said. 

Workers in Baltimore region struggle to get around

Workers in the Baltimore region have fewer transit options, spend more time commuting and pay more to get around than workers in similarly-sized areas, according to a new analysis. 

The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance released its 2020 report card on Wednesday. 

The region earned a grade of “F” for “job access by transit” and a “D” for “job access by car.” The report card also raised concerns about pollution and safety — and it found that too many communities are “disconnected.”

“Too many people in Central Maryland face transportation-related barriers preventing job access,” the report concluded. “Public transportation is too often unreliable and does not efficiently connect to employment centers. Traffic congestion results in too many wasted hours and excess emissions.” 

On Wednesday, the state’s congressional delegation — with the exception of Rep. Andrew P. Harris (R) — urged leaders of the U.S. House and Senate to include new transit funding in any upcoming COVID-19 relief proposal.

“During this pandemic, [transit] has become vital as more than thirty percent of essential workers depend on these public transportation services to get to work at hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies, and more,” the state’s Democratic lawmakers wrote.

“These essential workers are the backbone of our economy and without them we would experience more shortages of essential goods in our stores and food on the shelves,” they added. 

Farebox revenue has plummeted since the pandemic began. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which provides rail and bus service in the D.C. suburbs, recently announced plans to substantially reduce service and eliminate thousands of positions.

A measure that passed the U.S. House included $32 billion for transit emergency relief. The Senate has not taken action on the bill.

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Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.