Connected corridor

April 10, 2006

If incorporated, Columbia - with a population of about 100,000 - would be Maryland's second-largest city. It sits smack dab in the middle of the Baltimore-Washington corridor. But you can't get from Columbia to either of those cities without getting on Interstate 95 or other north-south highways, which, like roads all over Central Maryland, are increasingly congested. During rush hours, a MARC train trip from downtown Baltimore to Washington often takes less time than driving from Columbia to the district.

As Ken Ulman, a Howard County councilman and Democratic candidate for county executive, recently put it: "We're for the most part left out of the Baltimore [transit] system and the Washington system. We're not connected."

Thus it's good news that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. put $1 million in next fiscal year's state budget to study extending the Washington Metro's Green Line about 20 miles from Greenbelt in Prince George's County to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport - with stops at Laurel, Odenton and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County. It's also a positive step that Howard County state delegates successfully lobbied for study of a possible diversion of the Green Line to include a stop at or near Columbia. This Metro extension might take decades and at least several billion dollars, but it could be a vital step by connecting Baltimore and Washington's rail transit systems at BWI.

The state study is given impetus by the thousands of new jobs, commuters and, ultimately, households expected around Fort Meade in Anne Arundel and Howard counties from the recent military job realignment decisions. Added urgency arises from plans to revamp downtown Columbia, possibly doubling its housing units and increasing its commercial office space by 25 percent. The Interstate 95 corridor - including extensions along Routes 100, 175 and 32 - is booming. And while planners report they're getting on top of expected demands for housing, schools and local road upgrades (such as widening Route 175), traffic congestion may well prove a drag on the corridor's development and prosperity.

One million dollars for a transit study isn't much, but it's at least some recognition that the Baltimore-Washington corridor badly needs more transit. That also includes the need for more-frequent MARC train runs and for potential extensions of Baltimore transit lines to Howard. In this wealthy corridor, investment now in more transit connections would pay immeasurable dividends.

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