East-west rail line urged for fast track

Subway from Morgan to Hopkins Hospital is also recommended

March 20, 2002|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

From an ambitious plan to more than double rail service in the Baltimore region over the next 40 years, two major projects have emerged as priorities.

An advisory committee, which approved the overall plan yesterday, urged the state to move forward with an east-west rail line between Fells Point and the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn.

In addition, it recommended 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.

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 eventually run east from I-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 A. Agro Jr. 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.

"But we're going to approach these projects in chewable bites," said Virginia White, acting administrator of the Maryland Transit Administration. She estimated that the first two lines could be operating in five to seven years.

Major questions

Myriad other questions remain including the cost and whether the trains should operate above ground or below.

Other immediate priorities identified by the committee yesterday included:

Creating a new heavy rail service between Martin State Airport and downtown along the existing MARC lines. The airport is served by MARC, but Agro said there is a need for more frequent trains that can get riders downtown in 15 to 20 minutes.

Improving signal operations on the existing light rail system to speed service and reduce bottlenecks, including an express service between Hunt Valley and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The committee yesterday also made two major revisions to its original plan, proposing a significant extension into Howard County and adjusting the Red Line's future path through Canton, Dundalk and other eastern neighborhoods.

The original plan offered no service in Howard County. But feedback from residents throughout the region in recent weeks suggested a need for service to such points as Merriweather Post Pavilion and Columbia Mall.

A spur was added to the plan, connecting Arundel Mills to Columbia Town Center, with numerous stops in between.

That route will 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 Cold Spring Lane and Towson.

Yellow Line

As part of the rail plan's second phase, the committee suggested construction of a Yellow Line segment between Camden Station and Johns Hopkins University.

Adjustments to the Red Line mean it will follow a route east through Highlandtown to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and south to Dundalk and Turner's Station.

A southern spur, which originally would have gone to the same place, will now end at Canton. Committee members redrew the route to create a more direct link between Dundalk and Bayview.

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