Baltimore region trails in state transit funding

Transportation: Glendening budget brings progress, but still leaves this area `in the dark.'

January 23, 2000

GOV. Parris N. Glendening's $7.8 billion, six-year transportation budget shows he's serious about mass transit. This is indisputable progress.

The governor's plan seeks to add or advance 128 projects, from a $434 million extension of the Washington Metrorail Line to Largo to Maryland's $200 million payment toward a new Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

All Baltimore gets in the plan is $154 million to double-track the Central Light Rail Line. And that's the problem. Baltimore needs far more money to create a truly reliable mass transit system.

Mr. Glendening's budget does not mention any expansion of Baltimore's light rail line. Every transportation planner within commuting distance of here knows that Baltimore's rail transit is a sorry excuse for a system. The configuration is too limited.

A center-city rail loop and an east-west extension are essential -- and have been essential for decades -- but nothing gets done.

State Del. Howard P. "Pete" Rawlings noted the disparity in transit aid for the Washington suburbs vs. Baltimore's suburbs. Montgomery and Prince George's counties are lucky to have strong regional planning and aggressive leadership -- and a governor who favors that region. On the other hand, says Mr. Rawlings, Baltimore "is still in the dark."

Mr. Rawlings notes the leaderless Baltimore region has stood on the sidelines, watching hundreds of millions of transportation dollars go elsewhere year after year.

In 1965, state transportation planners recognized Baltimore's need for a spokes-on-the-wheel system like Washington's. But planning ground to a halt after the last Baltimore Metro and light rail line extensions. It has happened on Mr. Glendening's watch.

It's not all his fault. Former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke failed to push for transit. So did local county executives.

Not so in the Washington area, where lobbying for transit aid never stopped.

Resurrecting rail extension plans in the Baltimore region won't happen quickly. Transit projects can take a decade to build. But because of absentee leadership, Baltimore isn't even in the game.

Things are not hopeless. Baltimore's new mayor, Martin O'Malley, can make a difference. So can Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who recently set a goal of better rail transit for the region.

If they can galvanize their colleagues and enroll Mr. Glendening in a Smart Growth crusade for mass transit, city and county residents will gain.

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