Delegate seeks monorail study

Proposal aims to ease Bay Bridge traffic

March 09, 2007|By Jonathan H. Crawford | Jonathan H. Crawford,Capital News Service

The list of ideas for new ways across the Chesapeake Bay sometimes seems as long as one of those weekend traffic jams: a second bridge crossing, a tunnel and even a return of ferry service.

Now an lawmaker who represents three Eastern Shore counties thinks he has a solution that should be studied - a monorail.

Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., a Republican whose district includes Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne's and Caroline counties, said the state needs to look at monorail service between Annapolis and Kent Island as a possible way of clearing the region's clogged roads and offering commuters an alternative to the lengthening traffic jams on U.S. 50 and at the Bay Bridge.

Under Smigiel's bill, the state would study the feasibility of a monorail track that would cross the Chesapeake Bay on a new span and could be extended to other places, including Salisbury, Ocean City and Washington.

"What we do know now is that traffic conditions over the Bay Bridge are horrific. ... Currently, if we do nothing, we're looking at 12-hour backups [in the future]," Smigiel said before the Environmental Matters Committee.

Smigiel's bill calls for the state to set aside $250,000 to $750,000 for the study, which would be completed by January.

Smigiel said he favors the monorail because it is clean, efficient and less expensive than other means of transportation. One version of a monorail Smigiel suggested would be a high-speed maglev (magnetic levitation), which would be suspended over the tracks for a smooth ride.

The electromagnetic field would propel trains at speeds up to 300 mph under optimal conditions, a legislative aide said.

Smigiel said the monorail would be less expensive because the track would take up less space than other types of mass transit.

According to a 2005 analysis, about 65,000 vehicles cross the Bay Bridge on an average weekday. That is projected to increase to 86,000 by 2025. And in 2005, the average backup on a typical summer weekend was two to four miles on eastbound U.S. 50.

Smigiel said the problem has reached a "boiling point" for many of his constituents.

Maryland Department of Transportation spokesman Christiaan Blake, testifying before the House committee, said he opposes the bill because the study would probably cost $2 million to $4 million, several times the amount stated in the fiscal note. Blake said the state does not have the money for Smigiel's proposed study.

Another department spokeswoman, Nanette M. Schieke, said the study wouldn't adequately take into account the needs of the communities that the monorail line would serve.

"We want to work as a unit with local governments and policymakers on any potential projects that could address these issues," she said.

Smigiel, who said he was frustrated by the state's inability to make progress, said something needs to be done.

"If you don't like my idea, step up to the plate and propose a better idea," he said after the hearing.

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