Mr. Wagner, a longtime light-rail advocate in the General Assembly, sums up the most obvious and visible reason for the turnabout: "You can only put lanes on the Beltway for so long. The Beltway will become maxed out in this decade."
Not to mention other increasingly clogged Arundel arteries.
The electorate -- and in turn, the elected -- also have grown more environmentally conscious in recent years, especially as Baltimore and its suburbs have fallen far short of federal clean air goals. Following a nationwide trend, the state has looked to mass transit as an alternative to traffic-choked roadways that inevitably follow the suburban sprawl.
Still, in the early '80s, Mr. Wagner, along with almost everybody else, figured light rail's debut remained years -- if not decades -- away.
Today, he credits a man who missed riding the old B&A line he rode to Annapolis as a young lawyer with insisting that the state do it now. Gov. William Donald Schaefer, of course, got his rail line.
"We took him on a tour and said we could run a light rail to the Inner Harbor," says Mr. Wagner, who sponsored a 1988 bill proposing that the state Department of Transportation study the feasibility of a state-run system.
The senator then began making the rounds of community groups to plug the controversial new line -- and counter the images it evoked in the minds of many, if not most: noise and accidents.
Such fears have been allayed a great deal, but some Anne Arundel residents and merchants worry that the extension of the light rail line will bring unwelcome urban ills along with carloads of passengers.
"The main thing I'm concerned about, and other business people bTC are concerned about," says Chuck Pumphrey, owner of Pumphrey's Variety Store on Camp Meade Road, "is bringing people from out of town and being broken into and robbed."
Mr. Pumphrey also doubts the rail line will bring customers to his shop across from the Linthicum stop. "No one's coming from Baltimore to come to my little store," he says.
Parents worry that children will risk their safety crossing tracks // on their way to Linthicum Elementary School, across Camp Meade Road from the Linthicum station.
Others fear the system could become a white elephant, a novelty that passengers will take to ballgames at Camden Yards, then soon forget. "Are people ready to give up the freedom of their vehicles?" wonders Bryan Narer, a resident of the Woodlawn Heights community between Linthicum and Ferndale. "I might ride it to a ballgame or two, but I'm not ready to give up the freedom of my car."
Anne Arundel County Councilman George Bachman, who lives three blocks from the Linthicum station, acknowledges that habits won't change overnight. "In our generation, we love the car," the Linthicum Democrat adds. "But we have to get out of the car and into another mode of transportation. We're going to ** have to change our habits. Once you get used to changing habits, it will be very successful."
State planners are banking $16 million a mile on it. They intend to extend the line to Ferndale and Dorsey Road by July -- possibly to Annapolis after the year 2000 -- and build a spur to Baltimore-Washington International Airport by 1996.
Bright future anticipated
Last year, at the request of some business and community leaders who see mass transit as a way to breathe life into Glen Burnie's old downtown, the Mass Transit Administration conducted a $35,000 study to outline seven potential routes to get the additional 3/4 -mile. But the MTA, with no money or plans, says a Glen Burnie extension would cost some $10 million and will not be built in the next five years.
Since the first 16 miles of the $462.5 million system opened in two stages last year from Timonium to Patapsco Avenue, 8,000 passengers have ridden light rail daily, says Dianna Rosborough, MTA spokeswoman.
Officials project even heavier use of the line from Camden Yards south by commuters, college students and tourists alike, based on the number of people now riding buses.
By 2010, light rail's southern spur will generate twice as many passengers as the northern end, with 22,000 daily riders from south of Camden Yards and 11,000 from points north of the ballpark, says Ken Goon, MTA planning director.
Such projections portend a bright future for local businesses.
At the Royal Farm store near the Linthicum station on Camp Meade Road, sales fell off when Westinghouse laid off workers.
But rail passengers stopping in for coffee or doughnuts could boost business a good 50 percent.
"I'm not going to be able to handle it myself," says manager Vicky Pike.
And in the eyes of real estate agent Susan Rosko, Linthicum has just become the place to own a house -- or to put one on the market.
"It just makes Linthicum that much more accessible," she says, predicting light rail will boost resale values by up to 10 percent.
L "We are very excited about it. We make it a very big issue."