Robey joins opposition to maglev train

He notes transit system could negatively affect homes, businesses, streams

Move called `very shortsighted'

Proponents of project see executive decision as blow to $3.5 billion proposal

Howard County

May 02, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

With opposition growing in Maryland to the proposed $3.5 billion maglev train, Howard County Executive James N. Robey joined the critics yesterday.

Robey, who is also chairman of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, waited to take a position on the disputed train while elected officials from Howard and Anne Arundel counties lined up against it.

A cautious politician who normally supports regional transportation and economic development efforts, Robey's decision against maglev can only hurt efforts to bring it to the area, supporters said.

In a letter to Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari, Robey noted that the train's route could affect up to 153 homes and 182 businesses, and could include as many as 41 stream crossings.

"In my estimation, the maglev project and any proposed alignment which causes adverse impacts of this magnitude is unacceptable unless and until such effects can be substantially mitigated," he said. The cost is too high, he added, and money should be spent "to better support our existing and planned rail services."

State transportation officials acknowledged Robey's comments, and spokeswoman Suzanne Bond said they realize maglev has "regional benefits and local impacts."

Local critics welcomed Robey's support, while maglev supporters bemoaned his move.

"I'm ecstatic that Robey has taken a position. He's on the right course," said Del. Frank S. Turner, a Columbia Democrat who is chairman of Howard's delegation.

But Donald P. Hutchinson, a former Baltimore County executive who is director of the Greater Baltimore Committee, called Robey's decision "very shortsighted" and due mainly to the pressures of an election year.

"Public officials who might be willing to sit back and wait feel compelled not to do that," he said. Hutchinson predicted that the controversy over train routes will be solved with minimal rancor if elected officials can just wait until July or August before taking a position.

"It's unimaginable that 60 years from now there won't be alternative transportation systems to those we know. This is the one that has the technology in place that's far in advance of any we can imagine."

The train will "relieve burdens on counties like Howard," Hutchinson said, by moving people from downtown to downtown while avoiding highways.

Critics say the train won't take commuters off the roads and will hurt people who live along the route. The $500 million cost to Maryland is another target.

"I believe we can spend that money on other regional transportation solutions that will move people and make a difference. I don't think this will do that," said Howard County Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a Democrat who represents much of southeastern Howard. Republican Councilman Allan H. Kittleman agreed, praising Robey's stand and criticizing the train as too expensive.

The Anne Arundel County Council passed a resolution last month opposing the project. Anne Arundel Executive Janet S. Owens has criticized the train's route through Linthicum but has not said she opposes the project, said Matt Diehl, her spokesman.

Although the train could help attract the 2012 Olympics, boost Baltimore-Washington International Airport and take 30,000 vehicles a day off area highways, it has been drawing fire increasingly from people along proposed routes between Baltimore and Washington. They could not use it, they say, because the only stops would be in the two central cities and at BWI.

The region is competing with Pittsburgh for the federal go-ahead to build the 240-mph train, which rides on air, using electrically charged magnets for propulsion.

One of the three proposed routes would follow the Interstate 95 corridor in Howard County, while the other two would be in Anne Arundel, along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway or the Amtrak line. One of the routes will be eliminated as a possibility by June, state transportation officials say.

More than 300 Howard County residents, builders and politicians came to a Maryland Transit Administration informational session at a southern Howard County middle school Tuesday evening, which may have pushed Robey to take a position now. Before the meeting, Robey had said he would take a stand next week.

The Rouse Co., which has begun construction on Emerson, a large mixed-use development that will straddle I-95 at Route 216, is a major opponent of maglev, charging that even a small chance that the train system might come to pass will hurt sales of new homes costing up to $500,000 and the 1.8 million square feet of proposed commercial space.

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