After months of community protest and debate, the Maryland Transit Administration decided yesterday to abandon two disputed routes for the proposed experimental high-speed elevated train that would connect Baltimore and Washington.
Responding to complaints from residents, business and political leaders, the MTA said the train will not travel a route along Interstate 95 in Howard or one that follows the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in Anne Arundel. A third route along Amtrak railroad tracks in Anne Arundel is still under study, MTA officials said yesterday.
The 240-mph train is to run between the two cities with a stop at Baltimore-Washington International Airport -- provided the area is chosen over Pittsburgh, which is also contending for the project. Supporters hope the train, if approved, will also boost the area's chances in its bid to serve as host of the 2012 Olympics.
Yesterday's decision sparked relief among some who live along the two eliminated routes, but not in Linthicum, in the path of the remaining route, and it didn't dampen opposition to the project from those worried that the local portion of the $3.5 billion cost would cripple other transportation projects.
"I want someone to sit down with me and say, `We're talking $500 million [in state costs], and that will not detract from what we do,'" said Howard County Executive James N. Robey, chairman of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.
"I'm happier than hell," said Ray Smallwood, president of the Maryland City Civic Association; he lives a half-mile from the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
Elimination of the I-95 option through Howard County was the result of "unacceptable community impacts," and "significant engineering challenges," while the Baltimore-Washington Parkway corridor was dropped because of the train's potential effect on "parkland, historic sites, wetlands and endangered species," the announcement said.
"It was a grass-roots political issue," said Henry Kay, planning director for the MTA. "The public comments are very important," he added, noting that more than 1,000 comments were received, read, transcribed and categorized before a decision was made.
"Hooray! The outcry came from Howard County and Russett and Maryland City, and those are the two routes being dropped. That's the way our system works," said Del. Shane Pendergrass, a Howard County Democrat.
Robey said he expected the move, because "it just didn't make sense from where I stood. If I-95 was a priority route, that would have been shown to me two years ago."
Howard officials and the Rouse Co., which is building a large mixed-use development split by I-95 in southern Howard County, were surprised to find out in early April about the proposed route's proximity to homes. Rouse senior vice president David E. Forester said the news would "lift a big cloud over sales momentum" at Emerson, the firm's project.
"It would have worked better if they had looked at the plans [for Emerson] the county's had since the mid-1990s. It's none too soon," Forester said.
In Linthicum, which lies between the train's Baltimore terminus and a stop planned at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the MTA would route the train along West Nursery Road and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to keep it as far from homes as possible.
"It definitely sounds like an improvement, but I want to wait and look at the maps," said Stephen H. Kaiss, 42, a Linthicum resident whose Hawthorne Road home is near the business parks that line the parkway's eastern side.
"The people in Linthicum do not want the maglev at all. It will just destroy our community," he said.
Anne Arundel County Council member Pamela G. Beidle, a Democrat who represents Linthicum, approved of the MTA's move because it would have the train eight-tenths of a mile farther from homes, but said she's still against the project.
"It's a sexy project -- appealing" to people interested in new transportation technologies, she said, but it's too expensive. Other opponents say the train would not relieve commuter congestion, would be too expensive to ride at $26 one way, and would bring noise and visual pollution wherever it goes.
"Would you want to hear a whooshing sound every seven minutes?" Kaiss said.
Kay acknowledged that eliminating two routes would not satisfy people opposed to the entire project, and had a word of warning for people who think maglev is some hazy concept not likely to ever be built.
"Things go from not likely to happening before you know it," he said.
Staff writer Rona Kobell contributed to this article.