Three mass transit projects delayed

February 23, 2007|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun reporter

Maryland's acting transportation secretary, John D. Porcari, told lawmakers yesterday that three big mass transit projects - including an east-west Red Line through Baltimore - will not go forward to public hearings this year as previously planned.

Porcari said the projects, including two in suburban Washington, will be delayed about a year so that officials can develop more accurate and specific projections of ridership when the state seeks federal funding for the transit lines.

"We are going to get this right. You get only one shot with the Federal Transit Administration," he told the state House Appropriations subcommittee.

The schedule revision is a concession by the Maryland Transit Administration that its schedule for the projects during the Ehrlich administration was overly ambitious. Previously, the MTA had said that it expected to complete a draft environmental impact statement and hold hearings on the projects in the spring or summer of this year.

The three projects are:

The Red Line from Woodlawn to the Fells Point-Canton area. The state has been studying rapid bus and light rail alternatives, but transit activists are urging the O'Malley administration to include heavy rail in the study.

The 14-mile Purple Line connecting New Carrollton with Bethesda. Light rail and rapid bus alternatives are being studied.

The Corridor Cities Transitway in Montgomery County's Interstate 270 corridor. It would extend transit service past the Shady Grove Metro station into northern Montgomery, near the Frederick County line. Light rail and rapid bus service are under study.

The need to develop more accurate information could also push back two proposals that are in earlier stages of consideration: connecting Baltimore's Metro to Morgan State University and extending the Washington Metro's Green Line from Greenbelt to BWI Marshall Airport.

Porcari said the expected one-year delays are an estimate and that the projects could be pushed back more. "I'm not taking the 12 months at face value," he said.

Porcari is awaiting confirmation as transportation secretary, a post he held under Gov. Parris N. Glendening. He said he learned about the flawed data from the MTA staff under what he described as a "30-day amnesty" for department employees to bring him bad news after he took office last month.

He said the agency had been relying on ridership projections extrapolated from general data developed by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council and Washington's Council of Governments. The MTA needs time, he said, to develop more accurate data particular to the three transit corridors.

As an example, MTA planning chief Simon Taylor pointed to Council of Governments projections of ridership at the Shady Grove Metro station that fall short of the current numbers. He said federal transit officials previously accepted state ridership projections at face value but are under pressure from Congress to verify such numbers.

Ed Cohen, president of the Transit Riders Action Council of Metropolitan Baltimore, said he was not surprised that Porcari revised the schedule.

"This is a good thing because it would allow a review of what's gone on so far," Cohen said. "The new administration coming in has seen the degree of difficulty the previous administration faced."

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