As Harford County plans 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 County 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.
MARC commuter rails 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."
Harford officials say they agree that improved transit will be an important part of preparing for the transportation demands of the BRAC influx.
Harford operates intracounty bus routes that primarily serve senior citizens, while MTA commuter buses carry riders to Baltimore from park-and-ride facilities and are geared toward Harford residents who work in Baltimore.
"We are already asking for more buses in 2008," said Michael Hannan, Harford transit administrator. "That system is easier to expand. If you need more buses, you just put them on."
During peak hours, MARC trains stop daily in Aberdeen and Edgewood, typically transporting commuters to Washington.
"It is hard at this point to know exactly what the need will be," Hannan said. "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."
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.
County officials have discussed a "multi-modal" depot for Aberdeen, Hannan said.
"We would need a station with space for commuter buses and taxis so that people could make the connections they need," Hannan said. "We want transit to be attractive to people. Everyone realizes BRAC will not be all about bus riders, but many will commute on the train."