WASHINGTON – Gov. Parris Glendening has ordered a $200,000 study of a potential light-rail line that would link commuters from fast-growing Southern Maryland to Washington’s Metro system.
Glendening said Thursday that a light-rail line makes more sense than continuing to spend millions of dollars to widen Indian Head Highway, Branch Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue and U.S. Route 301, which are already clogged with commuters.
“In every case, we’ve added lanes, overpasses, and traffic is even worse,” said Glendening.
It could be up to 10 years before commuters heading for the District could actually hop on a train from Southern Maryland, and any line would need congressional approval, since the federal government historically covers 60 to 80 percent of the cost of mass transit projects.
Still, the announcement was welcomed by at least one lawmaker from Southern Maryland, who said the region is the last to benefit from Metro.
“I’ve been so disappointed” said state Delegate Samuel C. Linton, D- Charles. “I’m glad to see they finally are recognizing the need for this.”
Lawmakers from the region have long pushed for mass transit and Glendening said the issue came up in a recent meeting with Southern Maryland officials. The governor suggested a Southern Maryland light rail line at opening ceremonies for the Branch Avenue Metro Station in January.
Glendening noted Thursday that average daily ridership on the new leg of Metro’s Green Line has already surpassed 26,000, a mark that officials did not expect to reach until June. The governor cited that as evidence of support for light-rail linking Charles and St. Mary’s counties to Washington’s suburbs.
Linton said about 60 percent of Charles County’s workforce heads to jobs in the District and other areas every day, and mass transit would give the county’s 120,000 residents an option other than overcrowded roads.
State officials also pointed to a jump in ridership on Mass Transit Administration buses from Southern Maryland to the District as further evidence of the demand for light-rail service. Maryland Department of Transportation spokesman Jack Cahalan said ridership on the MTA’s 905 bus — linking St. Mary’s County and the District with stops at California, Charlotte Hall and Waldorf — jumped from about 900 riders a day in January 2000 to about 1,260 riders a day in January 2001.
“These numbers would suggest there’s a growing acceptance of mass transit in Southern Maryland,” Cahalan said.
Over the next 18 months to two years, the Transportation Department will spend $200,000 to study a light-rail route along Branch Avenue, from White Plains and Waldorf in Charles County to the Branch Avenue station, a distance of about 24 miles. The study will look at cost, projected ridership and potential corridors where a rail line could be built, Cahalan said.