Long before light rail delivers the first passengers to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, hikers and bicyclists will likely find their way there.
By next spring, state transportation officials expect to have completed the first leg of a 10 1/2 -mile recreational trail planned to circle the airport.
The first of four phases of construction will begin in about two weeks, state Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer announced yesterday.
The first phase -- comprised of two sections -- will begin at North County High School, run south along Aviation Boulevard and east across Stewart Avenue to the Baltimore and Annapolis Trail, the county's most heavily used park.
The first section of that phase, known as the Benson-Hammond spur, will run from the high school to the Benson-Hammond House, a restored 19th-century farmhouse and museum on the airport grounds, then continue along Aviation Boulevard to Dorsey Road.
State and county officials gathered at the restored farmhouse to present their vision of a major trail, one that someday will allow hiking and bicycling from Washington to Patapsco State Park. Outside the farmhouse, they hung a white sign with black lettering that read, "Site of the BWI Trail, Benson-Hammond Spur."
Lighthizer recalled how Sen. Michael Wagner, a Ferndale Democrat, first approached him with the idea for the trail.
"He said, 'You really ought to do something,' and put a resolution in the legislature," Lighthizer said.
After Wagner introduced a Senate Joint Resolution during the 1991 General Assembly, an advisory group of state and county agencies and citizens such as the BWI Airport Neighbors Committee, the Sawmill Creek Association and the Ann Arrundell County Historical Society, planned the trail.
The project is one of the first to use transportation enhancement money made available through a transportation bill Congress passed in December, Lighthizer said. The Federal Highway Administration will finance 80 percent of the Benson-Hammond spur.
The spur, a $400,000 project, will be built in conjunction with the State Highway Administration's widening of Aviation Boulevard. The $2.3 million project will widen one mile of roadway from two to four lanes and eventually tie into a planned I-97 interchange at Dorsey Road.
State officials were able to cut costs and move ahead quickly on the trail by planning to build it on state or county property during the Aviation Boulevard widening, said Hal Kassoff, state highway administrator.
The first phase's second section, from Stewart Avenue northeast to the Baltimore and Annapolis Trail, will be built next year.
Construction dates and financing haven't been set for the next three phases, including a leg from Stewart Avenue west to Friendship Park and the BWI Airport Observation area, another from the park to the proposed Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis Trail, and the last linking the trail with Patapsco State Park.
The 10- to 12-foot-wide asphalt and boardwalk trail, which the county Department of Recreation and Parks will maintain, will wind through natural greenways on public land and become part of a statewide network of greenways.