Delegates object to maglev task force

GOP leaders say group will rubber-stamp plan

March 19, 2002|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Republican delegates who oppose a proposed high-speed train connecting Baltimore and Washington are questioning the timing and the objectivity of a proposed task force to study the issue.

The legislation creating that task force, which lawmakers are to discuss today, would set up a panel of state officials to evaluate the proposed 250-mph magnetic levitation, or maglev, train that Maryland has been trying to land since the early 1990s.

The Federal Railroad Administration will decide next year whether Maryland or Pittsburgh will get the right to go ahead with the project, expected to cost $3.8 billion.

Republicans who oppose taxpayer funding for the project worry that the task force proposed in the bill introduced by House Majority Leader Maggie L. McIntosh would be little more than a rubber stamp.

"You will see nothing but proponents on this task force," said House Minority Leader Alfred W. Redmer Jr., a Perry Hall Republican. "This is not something that, in my opinion, will determine whether it's good or bad. This assures that maglev is a good idea."

Del. John R. Leopold agreed, saying the proposed maglev task force "isn't a `whether'; it's a `how.'"

The bill calls for a task force consisting of several state officials, including the transportation secretary, the secretary of business and economic development, and two delegates and two senators.

One of the task force's main goals would be to seek private funding. Maryland would be expected to kick in $500 million for the project, and the Federal Railroad Administration would provide $950 million, with private funds making up the balance.

Leopold, a Pasadena Republican, is among the maglev critics who have been fighting to remove $2.8 million from the budget for a separate maglev study. His amendment to delete the funding died in subcommittee last weekend. But the subcommittee passed his amendment calling for the Maryland Transit Administration to consider maglev's effect on communities when planning the train's routes.

Of particular concern is Linthicum, the community surrounding Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Maglev would almost certainly affect neighborhoods there, no matter which of four proposed alignments the MTA chooses.

Leopold said the task force should include at least one senator and delegate from the Linthicum area, whether Democrat or Republican. But even with that requirement, he said, forming a task force now is "like closing the door after the horses have already left the barn" because the money has been appropriated.

He and Redmer said they would have preferred a task force that looked critically at the state's projected rider numbers, the train's environmental impact and the best alignment scenario.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders are exploring other ways of derailing maglev.

Last week, several stood outside a Linthicum school where the MTA held an information session to protest the high-speed train.

Yesterday, Republican Dels. Donald E. Murphy and James E. Rzepkowski met in Washington with Rep. Don Young, an Alaska Republican who is chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, to try to stop federal funding for the project.

"There's no next step. There's a continuation of this step," Redmer said of the anti-maglev force's plans. "We just don't think it's worth a few billion to get from Baltimore to Washington a few minutes faster."

A public meeting on the maglev project will be held from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. today at the Odenton fire hall, 1425 Annapolis Road.

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