Possible Maglev route altered

Proposal in Howard Co. shifted to avoid running through new development

April 27, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Maryland transportation officials have shifted the possible route of a proposed Maglev train through southern Howard County to minimize contact with the Rouse Co.'s upscale Emerson development, but the move hasn't mollified opponents.

Some local politicians say they're more vehemently opposed than before, contending that regardless of alignment, the train is far too expensive, does too little and would disrupt county neighborhoods.

"It appears the real focus of this is to help people flying into BWI [Airport] get to Washington in 11 minutes. That's not going to help us regionally improve congestion," said Howard County Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat and a former Sierra Club president.

Guzzone and Del. Shane Pendergrass met with state transportation officials Thursday, and Rouse executives got a briefing on the new route yesterday, they said.

"The only reason I've heard to build it is it's nifty technology," said Pendergrass, a Democrat who also represents the area. "I'm pretty worked up about this."

County Executive James N. Robey has not taken a position on the project.

The Baltimore-Washington area is competing with Pittsburgh for the federally sponsored pilot project. Maryland would pay $500 million of the estimated $3.5 billion cost of the 240-mph, partly elevated train, which would stop only in the two cities and at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Three routes are under consideration: along Interstate 95, cutting through Howard; along Baltimore-Washington Parkway, cutting through Anne Arundel County; and along the Amtrak line, passing through Arundel.

The routes will be on display from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Murray Hill Middle School, 9989 Winter Sun Road in Laurel. The choices are to be narrowed to two routes in June.

Rouse Co. remains staunchly opposed to the I-95 option, although the altered route would skirt lots in Rouse's 570-acre, mixed-use Emerson development, which straddles I-95 at Route 216.

"It will have a visual impact. An elevated train is not what a buyer in a Rouse project expects," Senior Vice President David E. Forester said.

The new route would pass close enough to homes and churches in communities such as Huntington, Guilford, Hammonds Promise and Lennox Park in Dorsey to affect those living there.

Rouse Co. has complained that word of the train is hurting sales at Emerson, where construction of nearly 1,100 homes and 1.8 million square feet of commercial and retail space is starting.

Suzanne Bond, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transit Administration, said the agency is gathering reactions.

"For people who live in and around the alignments, we're able to fine-tune them," she said. "One of the goals of the environmental impact study is to avoid contacts [with residential communities] where we can. That's what this accomplishes."

Maglev is strongly supported by U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, who said yesterday that the train is "an incredible opportunity to relieve traffic congestion and improve safety." Exact routes must be determined locally, she said.

Mikulski has an ally in Del. John A. Gianetti, a Laurel Democrat who is the only Howard representative who openly supports the project. He said the train would boost business in and around BWI and Baltimore.

"People have got to look 20 or 30 years into the future," he said. "It will provide residents early access to what will become an East Coast rapid transit system, eventually going from Florida to Maine."

Guzzone and Pendergrass contend that the train would drain Maryland's transportation trust fund, have a minimal impact on highway congestion and be too inconvenient for local residents to use.

"People really need to turn out and make it clear what they think of the plan," Pendergrass said.

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