State Approves $9 Million For Rail Right Of Way

April 18, 1991|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Staff writer

More than two years of increasingly bitter negotiations over a 6-mile strip of land needed for light rail ended yesterday with state approval of $9 million for Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad right of way.

Both sides signed off on the agreement late yesterday afternoon, hours after the state Board of Public Works unanimously approved the purchase that remained doubtful as late as yesterday morning.

But the breakthrough in stalled talks, which had broken down altogether March20, came too late to complete the trolley's southern spurby next spring's scheduled opening of a new baseball stadium for theBaltimore Orioles in downtown Baltimore.

Mass Transit Administrator Ronald J. Hartman predicted the snags would set back by at least three months completion of the six miles of rail from the Baltimore line to Dorsey Road, part of the state's $446 million trolley line.

MTA and B & A officials said they expected to settle and close the deal within 30 days, as the contract requires, and Hartman said the MTAhoped to put out bids on the job within two months.

Both sides rejoiced over at last putting to rest disputes that led the state to threaten to condemn the land last month and drew accusations from B & A that state officials had repeatedly reneged on earlier agreements on the price.

For B & A owner Kenneth Pippin, the agreement broughta hard-fought victory in a seven-year lobbying effort to build lightrail along the B & A -- and a tidy profit on the old freight line hebought for less than $1 million in 1984.

"We've been in an adversarial position against the state for the better part of three years, and it's good to finally get thispart behind us and get the project going," Pippin said.

"It's been quite a journey. With some journeys, you get to the end and there's nothing, but this one paid off," he said.

Pippin said he plans to put a profit estimated at $8 millionback into the B & A Railroad, which will continue hauling freight along light rail tracks at night after the spur's opening.

Both Pippin and his attorney, James H. Burnley, called the delays avoidable and laid the blame squarely on state officials.

Burnley, a Washington attorney who has represented the federal government and private landowners in government acquisitions and served 18 months as President Reagan's transportation secretary, said he had never encountered morefrustrating or unpredictable negotiations.

"These were about the most bizarre negotiations I've ever seen, and they just kept getting more bizarre," Burnley said. "I was just at wit's end with these people. I could find no rational explanation, no earthly explanation for their conduct."

The attorney said state officials had agreed on a price and had told B & A that they would present an agreement to the Board of Public Works on four separate occasions, only to withdraw itat the last minute.

Then, March 20, Pippin, on the advice of MTA officials, signed a contract for the first time, with assurances thatthe MTA would sign after Board of Public Works approval, Burnley said.

But the state withdrew the agreement from the agenda lastweek in a dispute over liability, right-of-way configurations and other contract issues, Burnley said.

Ultimately, a utility pole threatened to sink the agreement once again, as state officials insisted on routing trains around the pole and onto the property where Pippin's railroad station house sits in Linthicum, Burnley said.

The two sides compromised yesterday morning, with the MTA still refusing to move theutility pole but agreeing to spare as much of the B & A station property as possible.

Then Public Works board members -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Treasurer Lucille Maurer and Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein -- met behind closed doors with top state transportation officials before the board restored the agenda item and approved it with little debate.

Hartman, the MTA administrator, called the deal a fair price for Pippin and state taxpayers and noted that the final offer came in well above the state appraisals of the land's value, ranging from $3.6 million to $5.3 million. B & A appraisals, by contrast, ranged from $6.8 million to $24 million.

Hartman said state officials concluded purchasing another right of way for completion of the southern spur would have cost much more than $9 million.

"It's beena long and difficult process for everybody, and it's certainly a relief to put it behind me," Hartman said, declining to offer more specifics about the bargaining.

"Everybody's got their gold now, and I think it's best to get on with it and get it done."

Hartman said another 17 miles of light rail between Timonium and Baltimore's southern border was on schedule and expected to open next April or May.

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