Columbia light rail spur expected

State transit plan would link it to line at Arundel Mills mall

`Considering an extension'

March 13, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County won't be the stepchild of Maryland's new rail transit plan for the Baltimore region after all.

A light rail spur to Columbia from Arundel Mills mall is expected to be added to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's plan for more than 52 miles of commuter rail track over the next 20 to 40 years. Arundel Mills is the proposed southern terminus of a new light rail line in the current draft plan.

That line would connect to existing light rail from Hunt Valley at Lutherville, and travel the York Road corridor linking Goucher College, Towson University and the Johns Hopkins University before rejoining the existing line from downtown to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Then, new track would go south to Route 100 at Arundel Mills.

A proposal to extend that planned line west to Columbia is expected to be made formally next week at a statewide meeting of a 23-member citizens transportation advisory committee at Baltimore's World Trade Center.

"Based on input we have received through public meetings and discussions with elected officials, we are considering an extension of the yellow line to the Columbia area," John A. Agro Jr., co-chairman of the committee and a former head of the state's Mass Transit Administration, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Earlier in the day, Jamie Kendrick, a project manager at Maryland Transit Administration, the agency's current name, strongly hinted the same thing to Howard County Transportation Advocates, which was meeting in Columbia.

After asking members of the private group for a show of hands on whether they would rather see light rail go to Howard County via a route south from Interstate 70 or west from Arundel Mills, most hands indicated the latter preference.

"I think you will be pleased" at the meeting next week, he said, refusing to describe the proposal outright and pre-empt the committee.

Howard residents have pushed for years to get a rail connection to Baltimore. With commuter traffic growing to near rush-hour gridlock along U.S. 29, Interstate 95 and Interstate 70, Priscilla Hart said she wants an alternative.

"Why should I have to drive to Odenton in my car to go to D.C. and not find a place to park?" the Columbia resident asked. "That doesn't make sense."

Kendrick, who has conducted community meetings on the plan since it was released in January, said state officials were surprised to hear people living in the Charles Village-Johns Hopkins University area of Baltimore, say they would like to have rail access to Columbia as one of their three top priorities.

"The leadership and advisory staff has heard Howard County," Kendrick told the meeting of the transportation advocates at Florence Bain Senior Center.

Although County Executive James N. Robey has not formally commented on the rail plan, Sang Oh, a Robey aide, said: "Jim has always favored a light rail connection to Howard. That's great news."

Del. John A. Giannetti Jr., a Laurel Democrat, wrote to Henry Kay, director of planning for the MTA, on March 2 in support of a Howard spur.

"A rail line from Baltimore to Columbia would do what I believe mass transit should do, that is link major population areas," Giannetti wrote.

Kendrick, a Howard County native, noted that "it is certainly refreshing to hear a group ask for you to come to town."

He said that a recent community meeting he conducted in Overlea had a "disconcerting tone" and "very strong community opposition to being connected to the city" by light rail.

One proposed line would go northeast from Johns Hopkins Hospital to Morgan State University, east through Hamilton to Belair Road, out to Overlea and Fullerton, to White Marsh, and then turn south to Martin State Airport in Middle River.

No money is available to complete any of the rail expansions suggested in the plan, but state officials hope to apply for federal funding next year once a final version is adopted.

The draft plan would expand service from 43 to 95 miles and the number of stations from 55 to 112.

Agro said the route and destination of any Howard County connection will not be chosen until specific planning begins.

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