GBC to push expansion of area rail transit system

A proposed line would link Woodlawn and Fells Point

May 19, 2004|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

The Greater Baltimore Committee plans to aggressively pursue development of a more effective mass transit system as a key element for the region's long-term success.

That effort is the cornerstone of a three-prong regional economic development strategy outlined last night at the business organization's annual meeting at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore attended by about 800 people.

Other priorities include building the region's bioscience industry and strengthening minority business resources.

"With these three efforts we hope to make the region a place where businesses want to locate and expand, because it makes good business sense to be there," said GBC President Donald C. Fry. "It's critical for the business community to be the solid voice behind these initiatives."

One GBC transportation goal is to have a shovel in the ground by spring 2010 for the start of a rail transit line that would carry passengers from Woodlawn to Fells Point as part of an expanded transportation system. It has not yet been determined whether the new line should be light rail or a heavy-rail subway and surface line.

"When you look at this region and realize it's going to grow by 250,000 in the next 20 years, you realize it doesn't have the infrastructure that can support that kind of growth," Fry said. "Transportation has the tendency to not be looked at until it's a crisis. We can't afford to sit back and wait and allow congestion to negatively impact our lifestyle or limit our potential for business growth."

Baltimore's two existing rail lines do not connect, though they come within blocks of one another, Fry said.

Residents need only remember the day about a year ago when 12,000 people came to Baltimore to hear the Zig Ziglar-led "Get Motivated!" seminar at the 1st Mariner Arena, which featured Ravens head coach Brian Billick, CNN talk-show host Larry King and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Fry said. "Our highways were gridlocked; our commute time tripled," Fry said. "Without planning, that will become a day-to-day occurrence, not an anomaly."

A new regional transit coalition - the Baltimore Transit Alliance - began working out of the GBC offices last month. Its primary goal is to secure funding for the planning, design and construction of the Baltimore Regional Rail System. Among the funders of the new alliance are: the Goldseker Foundation, the Baltimore Community Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Open Society Institute.

Already, the GBC has raised nearly $1.5 million toward another of its goals, managing the development of the East Baltimore Life Sciences and Technology Park and improving nearby neighborhoods on the city's east and west sides.

GBC's intends to educate the business community about the value of bioscience to the region's economic future in the coming decades, Fry said.

"We have the academic ability," Fry said. "We have the work force. We have many of the pieces that are going to make this a bioscience hub."

To improve the regional business climate for minorities, the GBC has developed a program called "Bridging the Gap."

"The purpose is to ... provide greater opportunities for minority businesses to grow and prosper, while educating majority companies about the importance of these strategic alliances," he said.

GBC hopes to expand the program, which started with workshops and a networking reception, by adding discussion groups, a mentor-protM-igM-i program, study of best practices for minority business development and an awards program.

Marking the end of his first full year at the helm of the GBC, Fry said he is most proud of the business community's willingness to get involved in bringing about change. His organization's membership grew by about 80 businesses this year, giving it about 500 members.

"I think the fact that there has been an increased recognition by the business community of its importance in being active and getting things done is great," he said. "It's vitally needed to move forward. I think the GBC has been a vital part in creating an understanding of the business leadership to move our region forward."

GBC's agenda

Develop a more effective regional transit system, starting by securing planning money to build a rail line from Woodlawn to Fells Point. Attempt to secure money to extend the Green Line subway beyond Johns Hopkins at least to Morgan State University.

Promote the region's bioscience industry starting with $1.5 million raised to help manage development of the East Baltimore Life Sciences and Technology Park and to improve neighborhoods on the city's east and west sides.

Strengthen minority business resources by helping minority businesses grow and educating majority companies about the value of strategic alliances with minority firms.

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