October 19, 2010

Companies suffer from transportation problems

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By Megan Poinski
Megan@MarylandReporter.com

Stuart FitzGibbons, manager of the Domino Sugar Refinery with the signature sign on its plant in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, told the Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding on Monday that he constantly worries about transportation.

He worries that the harbor will not maintain dredging so his ships will be able to get out. He worries about public transportation for his employees to get to work. The refinery initially was located in central Baltimore because potential employees could live nearby, he said. Now people tend to live out toward the suburbs.

But the thing that FitzGibbons worries about the most, he said, is the aging of the state’s transportation systems.

“Probably the most valuable thing in Maryland is the infrastructure that was created in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘60s,” he said. “I’m worried the money is not there to support it, and I’m worried about the support for transportation in the general public.”

The new Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding, holding its second meeting on Monday, is supposed to recommend ways to ensure that the state will have the money to maintain all of its transportation modes. After economists testified about the impact of transportation on the economy, FitzGibbons and other executives of Maryland companies and institutions talked about how transportation availability affected what they do.

Matthew Palmer, assistant director of state affairs at Johns Hopkins University, said that transportation issues have caused numerous headaches for their world-renowned medical facilities. Because of the lack of public transportation options for employees to get to the hospital for their round-the-clock shifts, most medical staff need to drive to the hospital. This adds more traffic and more cars that need to park in the central city.

Given the vehicle-centered commute to work and the international prestige of Johns Hopkins, Palmer said they have previously tried to recruit medical staff from outside of the Baltimore area. Few of these recruits stayed for more than a couple months because they spent too long in transit – and in traffic.

“There was no way they could commute and have a life,” Palmer said.

Incentives to get potential employees to move to the area are also pricey. Julie Garner, government affairs manager for Gaithersburg-based vaccine manufacturer MedImmune, said that some relocation packages to entice new hires to move to Montgomery County had to be higher than those paid to employees moving to high-rent areas like San Francisco and Los Angeles. This was largely because of transportation issues, she said.

A fifth of MedImmune’s employees commute between one and two hours, Garner said, but half of all employees would prefer public transportation.

“We are a company that has potential growth, but we also face transportation issues,” she said.