Plan to link to light rail is criticized

Proposal would tie Columbia Town Center, Arundel Mills

Robey urges prioritization

Some concerned that 9 stops would slow the service

Howard County

March 20, 2002|By Larry Carson and Marcia Myers | Larry Carson and Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

Howard County was added to Baltimore's proposed rail transit future yesterday at a downtown meeting, but a suggested Howard light rail route immediately drew criticism.

The move came at a meeting of the Baltimore Regional Rail Plan Advisory Committee, which also recommended that the state move forward with an east-west rail line between Fells Point and the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn. In addition, it urged an extension of the current subway system, taking it north from Johns Hopkins Hospital to Morgan State University.

Both projects are part of a blueprint unveiled in January. Eventually, several rail lines extending in all directions from downtown would reach outlying points, including Arundel Mills mall, Towson and White Marsh.

Howard County Executive James N. Robey said he wants a rail link to Howard, but suggested in a letter to state officials that they might want to take longer than the 20 to 40 years called for in the plan.

The route suggested by the committee would come from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to Arundel Mills mall, move west along Route 100 to Dorsey, then to U.S. 1, where it would turn south to Route 32. The rails would then go west to Broken Land Parkway, north through Owen Brown to Merriweather Post Pavilion and Columbia's Town Center.

That proposal anticipates as many as nine stops, which gives Richard Kirchner, chairman of Howard's private Transportation Advocates group, pause.

"We're more interested in something that enables people to commute directly into Baltimore or D.C. It's supposed to be a more rapid route," Kirchner said.

"When you see the number of people [at the Broken Land park and ride] taking the commuter bus to D.C. - that's a mob scene every morning. I couldn't believe it when I saw it," he said.

County Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr. agreed that numerous stops would slow the ride.

"If I'm going to work at Johns Hopkins [Hospital], I'm going to get there around lunchtime and then have to start coming back."

Rutter said planners should first commit to including Howard County in the plan, and choose routes much later. That would avoid arousing local opposition - like that in Linthicum to the mag-lev train - from people worried about rail cars going through their back yards.

"Running the [Washington] Metro from New Carrolton to Laurel would be immediately filled," Rutter said, as would an extension of the line from Silver Spring north along the U.S. 29 corridor.

Robey sent a letter last week to Henry Kay, director of planning for the Maryland Transit Administration, saying, "I urge you to include in the plan a rail link into Howard County."

He also told Kay that "because of the long lead time and high costs ... it may be necessary to employ a longer planning horizon than the current 20 to 40 years." He suggested the added rail segments could be prioritized in "short, long and very long range options," and also asked that rail connections be improved between Baltimore and Washington - not part of the plan now.

In Baltimore, the rail advisory committee members said they gave top priority to the proposed east-west Red Line because of high demand for service along that corridor, and to the Green Line subway extension because it would effectively create a wide downtown loop of transit connections.

In the long-range plan, the Red Line would run east from Interstate 70 past Dundalk. The Green Line would continue to White Marsh and loop south to Middle River.

"We feel you need to build a system from your core," committee chairman John Agro said of the priorities.

State transportation officials formed the committee last fall to draft a comprehensive rail plan for the region, and the group worked closely with state experts in creating it.

Yesterday, transit officials said they would immediately begin more detailed planning studies for the projects. They expect to include both next year in a bid for long-term federal transportation funds, and present them to Washington in the context of the long-term blueprint.

The original plan offered no service in Howard County. But feedback from citizens throughout the region in recent weeks suggested a need for service to such points as the Merriweather Post Pavilion and The Mall in Columbia. A spur was added to the plan, connecting Arundel Mills mall to Columbia Town Center with numerous stops in between.

That route would be part of a proposed north-south Yellow Line, including much of the existing light rail. New areas served by the line would follow the York Road corridor, with stops including the Johns Hopkins University, Cold Spring Lane and Towson.

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