Reduce light rail, state is advised Cuts in port costs also recommended.

August 21, 1991|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Evening Sun Staff xHC vHB

In an effort to save money, a legislative study group is recommending that the state eliminate one segment of the proposed light rail line in Baltimore County and reduce costs at the Port of Baltimore.

Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer agreed that the port should be "downsized" and made more cost-effective.

As for light rail, he said, potential funding problems may force the state to eliminate the segment in question, which stretches from Hunt Valley to Timonium. Lighthizer said, however, that he believes that part of the line should be built.

As currently planned, the $450 million trolley line would run 27.5 miles from Hunt Valley to Glen Burnie, by way of downtown Baltimore.

A joint committee of state senators and delegates studying transportation spending and revenues yesterday recommended eliminating the $36 million segment from Hunt Valley to Timonium.

The federal government is expected to kick in $27 million of that cost, with the state and local governments picking up the rest of the tab.

The projected ridership for that part of the line is small, committee members said. A park-and-ride lot could be built to accommodate trolley riders traveling from Timonium to Baltimore and Glen Burnie, they said.

State officials should investigate the possibility of using the $27 million in federal money expected for the Hunt Valley-to-Timonium portion for another part of the light rail line, according to yesterday's committee recommendation.

Formal recommendations on changes to the state's spending and taxation system, as it affects transportation and a host of other issues, are expected by January.

Lighthizer said he supports the Hunt Valley-to-Timonium segment, but the federal Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) may have the last word. UMTA may decide not to pay its share of that segment because it believes the ridership will be too low or the cost will be too high, Lighthizer said.

"There's an honest difference of opinion between UMTA and the [state] about the efficacy of going to Hunt Valley," he said. "Our position is that the Hunt Valley leg makes sense."

Some legislators, however, believe that the Hunt Valley-to-Timonium segment, if built, will lose money. "We're saying let's put that money into other parts of the line," said Sen. William H. Amoss, a Harford County Democrat and committee co-chairman.

Some suggested uses of the money include putting it toward the light rail spur to Baltimore-Washington International Airport near Glen Burnie or toward building double tracks to permit more efficient trolley operation.

In another cost-cutting move, the committee took aim at the Maryland Port Administration. It suggested eliminating funds for services not directly related to port operations, such as support for the Pride of Baltimore goodwill clipper ship and leases for out-of-state port satellite offices.

The group also voted to ask port officials to consider "a substantial downsizing of the port," expenditure and tariff reductions, and possible non-maritime uses of certain real estate.

Those recommendations would save about $2.5 million in the budget year that begins July 1, 1992.

Lighthizer said he supports reducing the size of the port, which ++ he said he discussed with some legislators before yesterday's meeting. "The governor agrees that the port has to be downsized," he said.

The troubled Port Administration is projecting a deficit of $5.5 million in the current budget year. The port has been losing some steamship line and cargo business to its primary competitor, the Hampton Roads port in Virginia.

The legislative study group also said yesterday that no more renovations or expansions of terminal facilities should be considered because of existing unused space. An exception could be made for a renovation needed to retain or attract a specific client, it said.

A third recommendation calls on the Port Administration to move out of its offices in the World Trade Center in the Inner Harbor and lease that prime space to private organizations.

Port Director Adrian Teel said last month that he was considering that cost-saving measure. If feasible, he had said, the administration offices could be moved from the World Trade Center to the Point Breeze Business Center, where the agency maintains other offices.

Other transportation proposals that won legislators' favor yesterday included one to extend Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) service to Frederick. Also, MARC service in Southern Maryland should be evaluated, they said.

Another proposal called for switching to a two-year registration period for the owners of new cars. Owners of older vehicles would continue to renew their registrations yearly under that plan.

The reason for the dual system, legislators said, is that new car owners would be more likely to keep their vehicles for two years than the drivers of older autos.

The measure would decrease work for Motor Vehicle Administration employees, thereby saving money, Amoss said.

Yesterday's meeting was part of a House and Senate effort to study the state's tax system, beginning with a look at how and where state government spends its money.

Legislators have said they plan to have formal recommendations on changes to the tax and spending system by the time the General Assembly convenes for its regular session next year.

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