Towson transit center: road kill

June 07, 1993

Three months ago, the transit center planned for downtown Towson looked like a done deal. Now it's a dead deal.

One happy and unexpected upshot, though, is that Towson's notorious "intersection from hell" -- the convergence of York, Joppa and Dulaney Valley roads and Allegheny Avenue -- stands a good chance of being converted into a more user-friendly crossing for drivers and pedestrians alike.

These are just the latest twists and turns on what has been a bumpy ride since the transit center was first proposed in the mid-1980s.

In 1987, a special advisory committee recommended three dozen possible sites for the center to the administration of then-County Executive Dennis Rasmussen -- which ignored all the suggestions and opted for the triangle of land just north of the troublesome intersection. The Rasmussen administration liked that spot for, among other things, its potential as a bridge between the government buildings to the west and the retail stores to the east.

The original plan for the transit center was an ambitious one; it included retail and office space as well as a depot. But then came the recession, and the federal money that was expected to fund the project evaporated. As a result, the ambitious plan was scaled down, leaving only what one local politician aptly described as "a glorified bus station."

This downscaling soured many county and state officials on the idea. They became more adamant once they gauged the strong opposition of local business owners and community groups, who feared a transit center at that site would make an awful intersection worse. The obvious lack of support for the center led Mass Transit Administration chief John Agro, an advocate of the project in March, to his decision last month to kill it.

For doing the non-bureaucratic thing and actually heeding the wishes of people close to the scene, Mr. Agro should be commended.

The State Highway Administration will now conduct an intensive study of the intersection, and public and private interests in Towson hope the results will pave the way for a major re-design of the streets there.

Meanwhile, a transit center for Towson is way down the road. That's puzzling, given the enthusiasm public officials once had for the idea.

Just because the triangle was an unpopular site should not preclude consideration of other sites nearby for a transit center, along with a light-rail terminal.

These are the sorts of mass transit needs that must be met in a place as populous and important to the county as Towson.

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