FOR YEARS, Baltimore's desire for logical and interconnected public transit services has been a cart without wheels.
Now transit planners have rolled out recommendations that would double the area's rail service over the next 40 years.
Approved this week by an advisory committee of the Maryland Transit Administration, the master plan envisions a rail future that is all too familiar: Many of its elements have been advocated in these pages for years.
First-priority segments include an east-west line from the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn to Fells Point, long considered the missing piece in the city's transportation puzzle, and an extension of the existing subway line north from Johns Hopkins Hospital to Morgan State University.
The first-stage projects, estimated to cost $2.5 billion, would serve new riders, link currently disconnected rail systems and connect downtown to high-employment hubs. Future extensions would carry riders to the suburbs.
Planners also urged the state to improve speed and provide express service on the lumbering light rail ride from Hunt Valley to BWI.
The transit plan prompts as many questions as it answers: Will the new lines be above or below ground? Residents and businesses in the rail corridors will eventually have their say, but will they also have their way? Do the political will and capital exist to get the job done? The state must refine, endorse and fund the specific proposals, and there is no time to stall.
Whether you agree with its parts or their sum, the advisory group's master plan represents a critical first step toward drafting a bid in 2003 for a share of federal aid for regional transit projects.
Not since the late 1960s have officials had a blueprint on which to base long-range, multimillion-dollar investment in public transit for the Baltimore area, according to MTA officials. This significant obstacle to progress now has been removed: We have, again, a starting place.
Twice in recent years, Maryland leaders have let pass the opportunity to seek federal funds for Baltimore-area transit. They ignored pleas for traffic and parking relief, and calls for support for the region's economic health and development.
Now the wheels are on the cart: Let's see whether Maryland leaders will drive it to Washington.