Making light rail work Hunt Valley extension: New stations will help transit tap new riders and fulfill potential.

September 09, 1997

A TODDLER with a crayon could draw Baltimore's limited, linear rapid-rail map. The Central Light Rail, which expands today to job-rich Hunt Valley, runs 27 miles straight into downtown and south to Glen Burnie. Metro, meanwhile, runs 15 miles, from Owings Mills in northwest Baltimore County straight into downtown, then east to Johns Hopkins Hospital.

These routes do not resemble the elaborate networks of intersecting squiggles and shapes that visitors and workers in places like New York and Washington heavily use. That has made it more difficult for rail travel to catch on in and around Baltimore.

But expansion of the present system will go a long way to change that. Light rail opens today to Hunt Valley, an "edge city" of office towers that houses 340 businesses and 30,000 jobs.

The 4.5-mile extension from the previous northernmost terminus in Timonium near the fairgrounds should be a boon for employees and employers, and aid the awakening of the Hunt Valley Mall. While a rail stop inside the mall would have been ideal, the new station is near enough to help the center's rebirth.

The Mass Transit Administration expects that the extension of the Central Light Rail Line to Hunt Valley today, and then to Baltimore's Penn Station and Baltimore-Washington International Airport in November, will boost ridership 65 percent by the year 2000, from 22,000 to 36,000 daily passenger trips.

The importance of these new connections can't be overstated. Metro ridership grew nearly 20 percent, from 40,000 to 47,000 round-trips daily, when the subway opened a stop under Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1995.

The links to key job centers and other transportation nodes make the trolley and subway operations more relevant, especially to riders previously disinclined to take mass transit.

The system cannot stop there. Proposals for stations at Ruxton and Cross Keys and extensions to Annapolis, White Marsh and Columbia, long ignored due to lack of cash or community support, should be re-examined.

The station openings today and later this fall will demonstrate that well-placed rail cannot only lessen the burden on heavily traveled highways, but also spur economic development and "smart growth" by giving people further enticement not to choose a long driving commute to the far-out suburbs.

Pub Date: 9/09/97

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