Light rail line to get $85 million in federal funding

November 02, 1994|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Sun Staff Writer

Plans to expand the Central Light Rail Line received a major boost yesterday with a pledge of $85 million in construction funds from the federal government.

The money will cover 80 percent of the cost to extend light rail to Hunt Valley, Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Pennsylvania Station. The remaining $21 million of the $106 million project will come from the state.

Federal Transit Administration (FTA) officials yesterday also pledged $37 million for improvements to the Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) system. The money will be used to help buy a fleet of double-decker coaches, overhaul locomotives and purchase some new ones, and upgrade stations and parking lots.

Congress promised to help pay for the light rail extensions three years ago, and about half of the money was already in the hands of the Mass Transit Administration (MTA). But even though the funding had been expected, yesterday's announcement was significant because it ensures full federal participation in the project.

"Congress doesn't have the ability to fund every project it has authorized," said John A. Agro Jr., MTA administrator. "There was no guarantee the federal government was going to fund the remaining share."

For the first time, federal money is being spent on the 2-year-old light rail system. The initial $364.4 million, 22.5-mile-long Timonium-to-Glen Burnie project was financed entirely by state tax dollars.

The contract to design and build the extensions is expected to be awarded next month by the state Board of Public Works to a consortium of companies led by Whiting Turner Contracting Co. of Baltimore. The consortium submitted a low bid of $55.75 million last month, about 6 percent below the MTA's original estimate of $59.4 million.

The extensions will add 7.54 miles to the system as well as a considerable number of riders, boosting the current average of 20,000 per day nearer to the goal of 33,000 riders by 2010.

Construction will likely begin early next year. The new routes are scheduled to open in spring 1997.

The 4.5-mile Hunt Valley extension will connect light rail to one of the region's fastest growing employment centers with 30,000 jobs and 340 businesses.

The 2.7-mile link to BWI will include a station within the airport terminal.

The one-third of a mile spur to Penn Station from the Mount Royal stop might one day be extended along Guilford Avenue as a second corridor to downtown.

"Extensions are critical to attracting ridership," FTA Administrator Gordon Linton said after announcing the grant in a visit to Penn Station. "It's hard to evaluate what ridership's going to be for a system before the extensions are done."

He said light rail and MARC have helped reduce traffic congestion and air pollution in Maryland while providing better access to jobs, health care and tourist attractions.

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