By John O’Connor
BALTIMORE – A Maryland Department of Transportation committee released an ambitious rail transit plan Friday to connect five counties and Baltimore and allow train travel virtually anywhere in the Baltimore region.
The new rail system, said designers, would give travelers more options.
“Our goal has been to develop a system that is fast and reliable; a system of choice that people will use for work, recreation and health care services,” said John A. Agro Jr., a former Maryland Transit administrator and co-chairman of the Baltimore Regional Rail System advisory committee.
The rail plan, which designers admit will take decades to design and build, resembles the Washington region’s Metro system. Designers could not estimate a total cost for the project – sure to be billions of dollars depending on the project’s final design and time line.
Work on the new line could begin as soon as three years from now, said Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari.
The system includes a new Red Line connecting Interstate-70 and the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn with terminals in Canton and Turners Station in Dundalk.
Another new line would run from Columbia in Howard County, to Baltimore/Washington International Airport and on to Hunt Valley in Baltimore County, while a new Orange Line would connect the Dorsey and Camden Yards MARC – the state’s commuter railroad – through Southwest Baltimore neighborhoods.
The plans would also expand Baltimore’s existing subway through Northeast Baltimore and Morgan State University to Martin State Airport in Middle River and a park-and-ride station on Interstate-95. That subway would be known as the Green Line.
Plans also include extending existing MARC lines through a new East Baltimore station northeast into Harford County. The MARC route would be known as the Purple Line.
The system would allow riders to hop the Yellow Line to shop at L.L. Bean at the Columbia Town Center, catch the Red Line back to Highlandtown for an Italian cold cut at DiPasquale’s before seeing a play in Mount Vernon’s cultural district.
Designers also touted service connecting underserved communities in East Baltimore with job-rich neighborhoods in Baltimore and Howard counties.
The rail system was a year in planning and included public input. The rail line to Columbia, Agro said, was added because residents regionwide wanted access to the planned Howard County community.
Final station locations, line routes and whether the lines will be heavy or light rail will also depend on community feedback, said former Delegate Anne S. Perkins, co-chairwoman of the committee.
Designers planned the rail system around “life’s activities,” said Agro, and that is why Baltimore commuters will choose mass transit – just as Washington-area residents have.
“I don’t necessarily subscribe to the theory that if you build it they will come,” he said. Riders cannot feel as if they are held hostage by transit availability, he said, and taking the train needs to be as fast or faster than driving.
Washington’s Metro system has been successful, Agro said, because local governments and communities were committed to building the project – and willing to pay. The region, which includes Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties as well as Baltimore is similarly unified, he said.
“The six jurisdictions and the state have to be speaking with a single voice,” Agro said. “I was pleasantly surprised to see how they came together.”
The region may be less unified on how to pay for the project. Maryland is facing a $1.7 billion deficit next year and the possibility of long-term deficits for transportation funding without revenue increases.
The project could be partly funded with federal money. The state and its congressional delegation, said Porcari, are pushing for money to be included in the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century–TEA- 21 – which expires next year.
Maryland’s Congress members are few in numbers, Porcari said, but large in influence. U.S. Reps. Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, and Elijah E. Cummings, D-Baltimore, serve on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which would handle TEA-21 reauthorization.
Currently TEA-21 splits transportation project costs 80-20 between federal and state governments, respectively. New regulations split costs 50-50.
While there is nationwide demand for transit money, said Porcari, the proposed Baltimore system should compete well with other projects. The economic benefits of the new rail line, he said, are a convincing argument.
“We’ve made an unprecedented investment at the state level,” he said. “The federal government needs to do the same. The TEA-21, if it’s going to be effective for the economy, needs to be a larger program.”