Kay to lead a new coalition seeking regional rail system

MTA planning chief says transit quality can affect investment downtown

April 06, 2004|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Henry M. Kay, planning director for the Maryland Transit Administration, was named yesterday to head a new private regional coalition to push for funding and development of the proposed Baltimore Regional Rail System.

"The Baltimore region has never had a good transit system," said Donald C. Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, the group leading the coalition. "In fact, you could say it doesn't have a system. With the region expected to grow by 230,000 to 250,000 [people] over the next 20 years, we won't be able to provide the mobility we need."

The GBC has long been interested in transportation issues, which the business organization views as essential to moving goods and services and providing mobility for the region's work force, Fry said.

"Transportation seems to only get funding when there's a crisis," Fry said. "But the key is to have the foresight to plan and strategize so you can address the mobility issues before they become a problem or a crisis."

In the Baltimore region, about 70 percent of mass transit is by bus and 30 percent by light or metro rail. In contrast, Washington has 70 percent rail transit and 30 percent by bus, Fry said.

Baltimore's two rail lines do not connect, Fry noted.

A Metro subway line runs from Owings Mills to the center of Baltimore and east to Johns Hopkins Hospital. Slower light rail runs from Hunt Valley through Timonium into Baltimore, then past the Orioles and Ravens stadiums down Howard Street to Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The two lines don't link, though they come within blocks of one another.

"Major cities have good transportation systems, and a good transportation system is one that has a lot of modes and they integrate," Fry said.

Kay, 39, has held senior transportation planning positions for the state for more than 10 years and has been the MTA's director of planning since September 1998. He will start his new job at the GBC April 19. His salary was not disclosed.

"The cities that are the most successful in expanding their transit systems have benefited from very active and continuing involvement from their business communities," Kay said. "This is something we've lacked in Baltimore for the past 15 years."

Baltimore's transit system is stagnant, and its ridership shrinking, Kay said.

"The competitiveness of the central business district is declining relative to other areas," he said.

"For anyone who has an investment downtown or is thinking of making one, the quality of transit has got to be important to them. If we have hopes that the business district is going to grow, we have to be making these kinds of investments," he added.

Kay's job will include overseeing a coalition to advocate for transit improvements.

That coalition is to include regional business leaders and business organizations such as the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore and the BWI Partnership. It also will include community and civic groups such as the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, the Baltimore Urban League, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and 1,000 Friends of Maryland.

Initial efforts would seek $17 million to $24 million in planning money for a proposed Metro Red Line that would run from Woodlawn through the west side, into the center of Baltimore to President Street. Ultimately, it might continue to Canton and Fells Point, Fry said.

A second phase calls for extension of the Green Line, which stops at Johns Hopkins Hospital, to Morgan State University and eventually to the Baltimore Beltway.

The transforming power of a good transportation system cannot be underestimated, Kay said.

The Washington area has hundreds of thousands more jobs than it did in the 1960s, when the subway was being planned, and no new highways have been built, he said.

"What's allowed that to work is Metro," Kay said. "It's a real testament to the power of transit to transform the heart of a region."

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