The Baltimore Metro's new subway station that opened today at Johns Hopkins Hospital is much more than a transit stop. It's a monument. And not just a memorial to the innovation and hard work that built the new subway link despite problems with gasoline-saturated soil underground. It's a monument to local mass transportation, but what it symbolizes depends on your perspective.
Baltimore already has one monument whose meaning isn't the same for everyone. It's the interstate ramp that stops in mid-air alongside I-95 as you approach the city from the south. To those who in the 1970s successfully protested a plan to connect I-70 to I-95 by bulldozing homes in Rosemont, it is a monument to their tenacity. To those who feel Baltimore commuters suffer without that artery, it is a monument to underachievement.
There will be similarly mixed assessments of what the Mass Transit Administration's new subway stop symbolizes. Most people will celebrate the opening of the new leg as the end of a six-year effort to link Johns Hopkins Hospital to stops along the rest of the subway line. But the new stop may also remind people of the Metro's shortcomings.
The Metro was conceived as a 77-mile system with six lines. Today it has only one complete line -- the northwestern 14-mile route to Owings Mills. The Johns Hopkins leg could be the beginning of a northeastern route to White Marsh. But that will never happen; the price tag is too expensive.
Construction of the short 1.5-mile leg that will include a station at Shot Tower as well as the one at Johns Hopkins cost $343 million, which is $10 million under the revised budget. Imagine what the cost would be for a five- or 10-mile subway line. Where will such sums come from with the Republican Congress threatening to severely slice federal subsidies for mass transportation?
MTA Administrator John A. Agro Jr. admits future subway extensions are unlikely, but he says less expensive modes can be used to extend transportation lines. One possibility, for example, is a light rail line to White Marsh that actually travels a brief distance underground to a stop downtown where passengers can board a subway train.
Mr. Agro says MTA has already reversed declining subway ridership that accompanied the loss of jobs during the recession. At least 4,000 new passengers are expected to use the Johns Hopkins subway link, with potential for more.
Opening the Hopkins station certainly creates better mass transit possibilities that involve other modes of transportation. But how many of those possibilities become reality will determine what type of monument the subway stop becomes for commuters in this city.