Council gets a look at how maglev train could benefit city

Report to be released this month shows jobs, revenue would be created

Public hearings being held

December 09, 2003|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's City Council received a sneak preview yesterday of how a proposed high-speed maglev train could one day benefit the city and region with thousands of new jobs and millions in investments.

Also yesterday, the Maryland Transit Administration began a series of hearings to garner public opinion on the embattled project proposing to connect Baltimore and Washington by way of a 250-mph levitating locomotive.

Maglev "is not a dead issue," said Phyllis M. Wilkins, executive director of the Baltimore Development Corp.'s Maglev Maryland. "The reports of our death have been highly publicized."

But, she added, they are not true.

To make her point, Wilkins told council members at their luncheon yesterday that the MTA has finished its environmental impact statement and that seven hearings would be held this month to get the public's reaction. The first was last night in Odenton. The second will be held at 5 tonight in Cherry Hill at Cherry Hill Middle School at 801 Bridgeview Road.

During her presentation to the council Wilkins provided an advance look at an Abell Foundation study predicting the project's economic benefits.

The $4.98 billion project would create 16,300 jobs during the three-year construction phase. The report, to be made public by the Greater Baltimore Committee this month, also projected $350 million in new spending that would lead to $33 million in state and local taxes during construction.

"We expect the NIMBY [not in my back yard] reaction," Wilkins said. "But we have to be vocal on how important this is going to be for Baltimore."

She said construction would disrupt two city neighborhoods -- Cherry Hill and Westport.

Councilwoman Lois A. Garey questioned whether the MTA had provided enough notice about the public hearings to residents who would be affected by construction of the line.

"The meetings are being held during the holiday season," Garey said, noting the lack of time to attend such hearings during the holidays.

The magnetic levitation train would travel the 39-mile route between Baltimore and Washington in 18 minutes, stopping at Camden Station, Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Union Station. The round-trip fares would range between $27.60 for riders with monthly passes and $55.20 for others.

Wilkins said predictions show that 27,200 passengers would use the train every day by 2010.

The project still depends on authorization from Congress and approval from the Federal Railroad Administration. Baltimore is competing with Pittsburgh for a $950 million federal grant to build the nation's first maglev line. If chosen, the state would be expected to contribute $475 million for construction.

"It's just not fiscally realistic," said Del. John R. Leopold of Pasadena, a leading maglev opponent. "Even if it were a great project, we can't afford it today ... when there are so many other transportation needs crying for assistance."

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