Light rail belongs near businesses and industry, not in residential neighborhoods, Linthicum-Shipley Improvement Association members saidemphatically Wednesday night.
Some 70 members of the association voted unanimously to stake up to $5,000 on a final long-shot bid to have a light-rail extension routed through a predominantly industrial and commercial area, and not through their neighborhoods.
But now comes the hard part: winning enough support to convince state planners to send trains along Nursery Road and Baltimore-Washington Parkway instead ofthrough the heart of Linthicum.
Wednesday's vote gives the association's board of directors the go-ahead to hire a private transportation planner to challenge state findings, should the Mass Transit Administration select one of the two routes slicing through residential areas.
The odds seem to weigh heavily against the Nursery Road-BW Parkway option. At $79.4 million, it would cost more than twice as much as the other two routes, and it lacks the support of the county executive, the county councilman representing the area and another nearby community association.
Moreover, county lawmakers and community leaders say, the MTA, which is banking on the federal government to pay at least three-quarters of the cost, heavily favors one of the two less-expensive routes. MTA officials have refused public comment.
Linthicum-Shipley residents, however, disputed MTA ridership, cost and revenue projections and sharply criticized the two routes through the community.
Both routes, the residents said, would slice directly through residential areas and worsen suburbangridlock by keeping would-be rail commuters in their cars. Only the Nursery Road-BW Parkway route includes a stop in the heart of the business center around Baltimore-Washington International Airport, residents said; the other two routes would require a feeder bus service for business commuters.
"The whole idea behind light rail is to get people out of their cars to get rid of this gridlock," said Bill Mueller, the association's treasurer, who is heading light-rail lobbying efforts. "So this is just mind-boggling. We can't continue to have all these people in cars. We all live here. We know what it's like to get in cars when you can't move now."
These three routes, narrowed from nine options a year ago, will be the subject ofMTA public hearings next month:
* The Nursery Road-BW Parkway route would connect with the state's $446 million Hunt Valley-to-Glen Burnie light rail line at Nursery Road in North Linthicum. The extension would run along Nursery Road, next to BW Parkway, across a bridge over the Baltimore Beltway, along West Nursery Road, to the Airport Square business park, near Elkridge Landing Road and Elm Road to an airport parking lot. The 5.8-mile route would cost $79.4 million to build and carry about 1,625 round-trip passengers a day, the MTA says.
* The "direct connection north" would connect with the main line in Linthicum at Hammonds Ferry Road, travel through Linthicum, passing Andover High School, then along Camp Meade Road to Old Stony Run Road and Elm Road to the airport. The northern route, running 2.3 miles, would cost $27.3 million and carry about 1,400 round-trip passengers daily, the MTA estimates.
* The "direct connection south," also running through Linthicum neighborhoods, would connect with the main line at Broadview Boulevard and cross Hammonds Ferry Road, where a gate would stop trafficfor trains. Trains would then continue along Camp Meade Road and ElmRoad to the airport. MTA officials say the 2.7-mile extension would cost $31.3 million and carry about 1,400 round-trip passengers daily.
Leaders of the Linthicum-Shipley association, who met Monday withCounty Executive Robert Neall and County Councilman George Bachman to try to win their support, again called on county lawmakers Wednesday night to lobby for the Nursery Road-BW Parkway route.
Neall, whohas told the MTA his administration has no preference among the three alignments, said he would review the resident's arguments before responding, association president Bruce Fink said.
Bachman, who attended Wednesday night's meeting, said he favors the southern route. Hecalled it a fair compromise balancing the interests of residents in Linthicum-Shipley and Crestwood, where the community association opposes the Nursery Road-BW Parkway option because it includes a bridge over the Baltimore Beltway near their homes.
Ultimately, however, cost projections will decide which route is chosen, Bachman said.
"When you think about the money, the difference between $31.3 million and $79.4 million, I don't care whose money it is, that's got to be the biggest factor," he said.
But Linthicum-Shipley association members suggested businesses would be willing to help foot the bill. Members also predicted the state would ultimately end up spending more to build a second extension for business commuters later if the Nursery Road-BW Parkway route is not chosen.