While there does not seem to have been any doubt that the federal government would finance the remaining segments of the Central Light Rail system, it is comforting to know the money is in the bank. With the additional $85 million pledged by the Federal Transit Administration, the central system will soon fulfill its potential. The bustling commercial area of Hunt Valley, Pennsylvania Station with its access to the the northeast rail corridor and Baltimore-Washington International Airport, with its booming commercial and industrial neighbors, all will be added to the central system.
That's what the transit planners had in mind all along. The light rail system is already carrying two-thirds of the traffic that was projected for the turn of the century. Once these new travel magnets are connected, the light rail system is sure to achieve the 33,000 daily riders projected for the central route.
That represents a lot of automobiles that will not clog highways in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, spewing fumes that will be increasingly unacceptable under federal clean air laws. Every 5,000 or so people who ride the rails rather than drive their cars to and from work represent a lane of multi-million-dollar highway that doesn't have to be built and maintained.
In the long run, a $37 million allotment to improvements for the MARC commuter rail system may prove to be equally significant. Feeding traffic to and from Hunt Valley and BWI is critical to the synergism between Baltimore City and the booming suburban growth areas. But increasingly both jobs and the people who fill them are to be found in adjoining suburban areas. MARC can move large numbers of people along the corridors that connect people with their jobs, not just Baltimore and Washington but also between the bedroom communities and suburban business centers.
With completion of the initial system in sight, it's not too soon to ask, where next? In one form or another, mass transit must play an increasing role in moving people around the metropolitan area. There is no way this region can meet federal clean air standards without greater use of mass transit. Further extension of the light rail system, through Glen Burnie to Annapolis, or across to Columbia, or from Johns Hopkins Hospital into northeast Baltimore County and Harford County, are possibilities. Other methods need to be found to help workers get from their suburban homes to their suburban jobs without driving all the way.
There always will be some trips that can be made only in the private automobile. The challenge is to preserve their essential functions without choking traffic arteries and human lungs.