Towson bus center revived Terminal is planned for Joppa and York

December 20, 1992|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

It's back.

The Towson transit terminal, planned for the triangular block at Joppa and York roads but delayed for lack of money, is on the road again and due to be built in 1994.

Yet the site, at one of the county's busiest intersections, may be no more popular than it was in January 1989, when then-County Executive Dennis Rasmussen picked it over the recommendations of a site-selection committee.

"This steam engine continues to come down the track, and yet it's never been said why this is the preferred site," Joseph Werner, a board member at the Towson Development Corp., said following a design presentation before the TDC last week.

Others say the site is too constricted and the intersection too congested for a bus terminal, and they worry about whom it will attract.

"The merchants are afraid of social problems," said Towson real estate manager Leroy Haile.

"What we want is paying customers in the retail establishments. We don't want panhandlers, winos and bag people working over the pedestrians."

Mass Transit Administration Administrator Ronald J. Hartman calls the so-called "crossroads" site "a good one, because it's in the middle of things, and it can provide good bus access from all directions."

"We've done traffic studies, and all of them show it will work," he said. It will not measurably increase the number of buses that already run past the intersection, he said, while moving them off Towson's side streets and onto York Road.

In any case, the siting issue appears closed. The federal dollars are lined up, the MTA has bought part of the property, and County Executive Roger B. Hayden has endorsed the spot, after initial misgivings.

"We were able to show the county executive that the intersection would work," said Craig Forrest, transportation coordinator for the county Office of Planning and Zoning.

While there is still time for people to have their say on design issues, Mr. Forrest said, "the site, I believe is not an issue."

As proposed, the $4 million transit center would consist of a landscaped lot with two lanes for six buses to pull in and drop off passengers.

A third, two-bus lane would be built on the Investment Place side of the property.

Taxis, airport limousines and vans operated by Towson State University and Goucher College also would use the terminal.

A 1,000-square-foot glass "space-frame" waiting area would be heated and air conditioned, with areas for ticketing, a news stand and tourist information, Mr. Forrest said.

"Also, in our long-range plans, we see this as the ideal location for a Towson line off the Central Light Rail line," he said.

The county has asked the state to include analysis of the Towson spur -- perhaps via the Beltway, York and Dulaney Valley roads -- in next year's capital-programs budget.

The once-grand plans for the transit center have shriveled some in four years.

In 1989, the county administration and the MTA envisioned a ground-level bus station topped by several floors of office and retail space. Developers weren't interested in that idea.

An attempt to get a scaled-down version into last year's state capital-program budget failed for lack of money but was revived in July, after the state's 5-cent gasoline tax increase and an auto-titling fee increase took effect.

The MTA is now negotiating the purchase of three remaining properties on the site. If all goes well, construction could begin by early spring 1994, with opening in the summer of 1995.

Before that can happen, however, the MTA must put the proposal through the county's normal development process, beginning with a meeting next spring for community input.

"If they have the zoning, and they are within county development regulations, there is certainly no reason to deny it," Mr. Forrest said. "What the community can do is mitigate the more onerous factors as far as the site is concerned."

For some, the most onerous factor is the site itself, and the feeling they've been run over by a bus.

"My biggest question is how the site was selected," said Scott Frenkil, owner of Reliable Shoes in Towson. "It should have the blessings of the community and not be . . . shoved down the community's throat."

All the sites recommended by a community-based site selection committee in November 1987 were rejected by the county administration.

"Each one of them had a fatal flaw," said Mr. Forrest.

Frank C. Robey Jr., the former county administrative officer who coordinated the siting process, said the location at York and Joppa roads was picked because it was strategically located, not only for bus routes, but also for a light rail spur and for the significant new retail and office development that was anticipated for the intersection.

If there is a legitimate concern today that might warrant additional review, Mr. Robey said, "it would be that certain of the elements of that overall plan did not come to fruition."

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