MTA's plans to extend the light rail system are still on track

THE INTREPID COMMUTER

January 31, 1994

With Baltimore's light rail system finally drawing substantial numbers of patrons, Intrepid Commuter is beginning to hear questions arise.

When will they build the extension to Hunt Valley? To Baltimore-Washington International Airport? To Pennsylvania Station?

In October, the Federal Transit Administration approved environmental-impact statements for all three extensions, paving the way (if you transit advocates will pardon the expression) for ,, the Mass Transit Administration to build them.

So as a public service to our ever-curious readers, we present to you a briefing on the status of the Central Light Rail Line project.

After all, as a taxpayer you're paying for it.

So sit back. Relax. Pretend you're governor. Act petulant. Order some state troopers to prune the roses.

*

You'll recall, Boss, that the MTA has gone over budget on this one already. Some design changes and new estimates raised the price from $98.1 million to $106.3 million last year.

The good news is that the federal government is picking up $77 million of the total budget. The MTA already has $44.6 million of the feds' money in hand.

The state will select a single contractor to design and to build the extensions. That's a bit different from the piecemeal approach the state traditionally uses for capital construction.

MTA Administrator John A. Agro Jr. says the challenge will be to build the project without further delays or cost overruns. The goal is to have the extensions up and running by May 1997.

"This is our showcase project and we need to send a message that the MTA can deliver it on time and on budget," Mr. Agro says.

The routes are set, and MTA has begun acquiring rights-of-way. Together, the extensions will add 7.54 miles and nine stations to the 22.5-mile-long Glen Burnie-to-Timonium system.

Here's how they break down:

* Hunt Valley. At 4.5 miles, this is the biggest piece of track with the most stations. It includes the only new station with parking -- 350 spaces at Warren Road.

It runs north from Timonium between York Road and Interstate 83, mostly alongside streets. The terminus is at the southwest corner of Hunt Valley Mall. There are also stations at Gilroy Road, Schilling Circle and Pepper Road.

The goal here is to add destinations. Planners envision city residents riding north to Hunt Valley job opportunities.

* Penn Station. Just north of Mount Royal Station, a spur will branch from the main line. It will rise from the University of Baltimore parking lot over the Jones Falls Expressway, turn south, and run under Penn Station.

Under this design, the spur could be used only by northbound trains. The MTA isn't sure how they will operate it. One possibility: to have a light rail car continuously running up and down the spur from Mount Royal Station.

One advantage of the design is that the spur can be extended south from Penn Station down Guilford Avenue and into the east side of downtown.

* BWI. This may be the most important extension -- the MTA expects it to attract more riders than the other two extensions put together. It splits from the main line south of Linthicum Station, running west to Camp Meade Road and then south into BWI's planned $130 million international terminal.

Although no new parking will be provided, a station at Elm Road and Aviation Boulevard will offer an opportunity to transfer to buses and shuttles serving major employers around the airport.

The MTA might operate the extension with its own cars running back and forth to the main line, just like the situation at Penn Station. The transfer point would be at a new station, essentially a platform just south of Linthicum.

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