Maglev attracts political bickering

Lawmaker calls rivals `Johnny-come-latelys' for now opposing train

April 21, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Like the noise of a fast train rushing by, Howard County's state delegates are bickering over who opposed the suddenly widely criticized Maglev train when it really counted - and who is a convenient convert.

The dispute - reducing a nationally watched pilot transportation experiment to a local election-year backyard fight - is a classic example of the old political dictum that "all politics is local."

Republican Del. Donald E. Murphy says his Democrat colleagues Frank S. Turner and Shane Pendergrass are "Johnny-come-latelys" who became opponents two weeks after voting to keep $2.8 million in Maglev planning funds intact in the state budget.

Turner and Pendergrass say their conversion was an honest one as they learned more about the project and its proposed route though parts of Howard - thanks in part to Murphy.

Whoever is right, they all agree now on one thing - Maglev is wrong for the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

They have joined critics in Anne Arundel County who say the $3.5 billion, 240-mph, often-elevated train will drain the state's transportation treasury of $500 million that could be used for more commuter-friendly, local projects. And the train, they say, will bring noise and disruption to neighborhoods whose residents will be unable to conveniently ride it. The train will stop only in Baltimore, Washington and at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

But Murphy can't stand seeing Turner and Pendergrass, whose District 13 includes one of three possible Maglev routes, publicly portray themselves as champions of the opposition, ignoring early - mostly Republican - opponents.

"It's real simple. He's [Turner] in the paper saying it's a train for executives, but he voted for it," Murphy said.

Maglev, Murphy said, "just doesn't make any sense." That's why passengers don't ride the trains anywhere in the world, he said.

'Wisdom nonetheless'

Turner said he is surprised Murphy is criticizing him because "he was the one who convinced us to look at it a lot closer" after the March 25 budget vote.

"Wisdom late is wisdom nonetheless," Pendergrass said, noting that Murphy helped educate her on the train's problems along with a constituent who was looking to buy a new home near Interstate 95 - only to discover the train might be coming through by 2010.

Opposition to the project - and especially to one of three possible routes down the I-95 corridor through Howard County, has begun cropping up locally the past few weeks. Last week, the Anne Arundel County Council passed a resolution opposing the train.

If it is built between Baltimore and Washington instead of near Pittsburgh - the competing site - the Maglev train could come from BWI through Dorsey, and through the expensive Rouse Co. development of Emerson, which is under construction along I-95 at Route 216.

Despite the objections, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend have supported the pilot project, which state transportation officials say will take 30,000 vehicles off congested roads and open the door to a clean, fast transportation choice that could stretch to Boston one day.

Budget amendment

In the local political argument, the General Assembly votes at issue are not in dispute - just their interpretation.

Anne Arundel Republican Del. James E. Rzepkowski offered a budget amendment on the floor of the House on March 25 that would have stripped the $2.8 million for Maglev out of the budget - and contained language prohibiting the state from going forward with the project. The money is to pay for an environmental impact study, engineering and for planning for an administrative authority to operate the train, which would cost $26 to ride one way.

The amendment was killed on an 86-44 vote, with Democrats Pendergrass, Turner, Elizabeth Bobo and Laurel's John A. Giannetti Jr. voting with the majority. The minority of supporters included Republicans Murphy, Robert L. Flanagan, Gail H. Bates, and Howard-Baltimore County Democrat James E. Malone Jr., who opposes the proposed high-speed train's route through the Baltimore County portion of his district in Baltimore Highlands.

But in the waning minutes of the final day of the 90-day General Assembly session, when a bill came up that would create a Maglev task force to study ways to implement the project, things were different. All the county's delegates voted to kill the task force proposal.

Rzepkowski's amendment bore several burdens for Democrats, Pendergrass said.

"Generally when there are floor amendments, you assume

the committee that dealt with this knows the most about it. Unless I have strong information, I will go against it [the amendment]," which she did.

Nine votes short

Rzepkowski noted that he needed nine more votes to kill the task force proposal in the final day's vote, showing that momentum was going his way.

"To Delegate Pendergrass' credit, she did come up to me after the [budget] amendment and said she had a tough decision. This was the first dose of information she was getting. `I need to learn more about this,'" he reported her saying.

Bobo changed her mind, too, after the budget vote, she said, "because initially the breadth of the cost and the narrowness of the scope didn't register with me."

And Turner said he, too, changed his mind because "I learned a lot more about it. It's the beginning of the process." If he had known March 25 what he knows now about Maglev, he said, "I would have voted against it also."

Malone, who voted with the Republicans on the budget issue, said he feels the vote may not matter in the long run.

"To be very honest, in my opinion, it's [Maglev] not going to happen."

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