Group pushes transit changes

Report calls for expansion of area bus, rail lines for base realignment

October 01, 2006|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN REPORTER

As Anne Arundel and Harford counties plan for the growth that will result from the nationwide military base realignment, officials should put more emphasis on improving rail and bus lines to meet demand, according to a transportation advocacy group.

Early planning has focused much attention on improving roads for the thousands of residents coming to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel as a result of the realignment process known as BRAC, according to the Baltimore Transit Alliance, a subsidiary of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

In a recent report, the BTA recommended extending the network of rail and bus lines, particularly those serving the bases in the two counties.

"BRAC-induced travel demand should be met to the greatest extent possible with improvements to the regional transit network, particularly in the immediate areas around the military facilities slated to grow," the report says.

The Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) service and local bus routes should expand in Harford and Anne Arundel, and officials should "direct the bulk of new growth to areas that are now or can be served with transit," the report said.

"Think about working with the railroad and getting more trains in both directions," said Henry Kay, BTA director. "It has to be an incremental strategy that builds up over time. A lot more jobs, 15,000 or more, will be adjacent to train routes."

Anne Arundel County officials said they are taking steps to bolster transit facilities, particularly at the MARC train station in Odenton. The county this year approved $350,000 for station improvements and is pushing for the construction of a parking garage there.

Anne Arundel and Howard counties announced an agreement in May with Fort Meade to set up a regional bus facility on the post within the next five years.

As part of that partnership, Anne Arundel wants to create commuter bus lines that could transport defense workers back and forth from the MARC train stations in Odenton and Savage to the Army post, said Anne Arundel's planning director, Joseph W. Rutter Jr.

Differing with the BTA report, Rutter said improving roads and rail and bus lines are equally important. While the county is looking to expand transit options, Anne Arundel officials have said the top transportation priorities are upgrading two highways near the Army post: Route 175 and Route 198.

Those state roads must be able to handle the increased traffic for the proposed train-bus commuting system to get people to Fort Meade, Rutter said.

"Even if you are on the bus, you have to use those roads to get there," Rutter said.

Harford County officials said they are trying to determine the need for additional MARC service. During peak hours, MARC trains currently stop daily in Aberdeen and Edgewood, typically transporting commuters to Washington.

"We know we have to increase the frequency of trains and we know that commuters are attracted to the rails because it is a fixed right-of-way that they can count on and not worry about traffic," said Mike Hannan, administrator of Harford Transit.

The BTA is calling for more trains to and from Aberdeen, lengthening existing trains to provide more seats, increasing parking at the present stations and considering additional stations in Harford, according to the report.

"These are recommendations to the MTA and government bodies," said Donald C. Frey, Greater Baltimore Committee president. "It is premature to say where riders will live and how many will use transit. We need a full menu, but these recommendations should be strongly considered in planning for BRAC."

Expanding rail service would require larger train stations and parking areas and more ancillary services, such as taxis and buses. Harford County officials have discussed a "multi-modal" depot for Aberdeen, Hannan said.

State transportation planners are looking farther into the future to keep up with Fort Meade growth.

The state approved this year $1 million to study a possible extension of Metro's Green Line from Greenbelt to Fort Meade and on to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Pointing out that such an extension could be decades away, Rutter said it is an impractical solution in the short term.

"The rail line extension is a very long-term project ... no matter who gets behind it, it can't be done quickly," Rutter said.

Sun reporter Phillip McGowan contributed to this article.

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