Expansion plans for MARC system

New service anticipated to military bases

Maryland

March 28, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

As part of the effort to accommodate the influx of about 30,000 jobs coming to Maryland with the nationwide military base realignment, known as BRAC, state transit officials are considering extending MARC train routes and buying more cars and engines.

The agency is rebuilding a train station in Edgewood and constructing a new depot in Halethorpe.

More bus lines and park-and-ride lots might come to Harford County to handle job growth at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Simon Taylor, planning director of the Maryland Transit Administration, said yesterday.

Taylor addressed a meeting of the Harford County Transportation Management Association, a community group that advocates more efficient transportation.

Transit solutions depend on funding and firm estimates of where in the region newcomers will live, Taylor said during the meeting at the Higher Education and Applied Technology Center in Aberdeen. Many of those questions have yet to be resolved.

"We have to balance the needs for the whole area and decide where is the best investment of our dollars," Taylor said.

MTA's share of the state's $13 billion transportation trust fund is about $1.4 billion. Additional revenue, possibly through an increase in the gas tax, could be used to finance capital improvements.

"We need an infusion of revenue," Taylor said. "Money gets sucked up quickly when you need $60 million for a [train] storage yard and $20 million for a train station."

One project, the $2.6 million Maryland Rail Commuter Service station in Edgewood, should open by 2010.

Plans call for an unmanned building with automated ticket counters, a waiting room and restrooms. Its 285-space parking lot might be reconfigured to allow Harford Transit buses an easier turn-around should they provide service to APG.

MTA is working on travel patterns and improvements to the service for the thousands of jobs coming to APG and Fort Meade. Similar assessments are under way in Howard and Anne Arundel counties.

"You can't move too quickly," Taylor said. "We have to see what plays out and where people will live and where they will commute before you develop solutions."

MTA went through base realignment 10 years ago when the Patuxent River Naval Air Station expanded. Many officials urged the agency to initiate bus routes from Northern Virginia, where many newcomers were expected to reside, to the base in Saint Mary's County.

"We found there never was a market for that service," Taylor said. "People didn't stay in Virginia. They moved to [the base]."

MTA might expand MARC train service as far north as Elkton in Cecil County. But its lines are operating at capacity with 30,000 boardings daily. Expansion would entail negotiations with Amtrak, which owns the rails.

It also would mean buying more double-decker cars, which cost about $2 million each, more $8 million locomotives and large storage lots for overnight layovers.

MARC trains can help, but they won't be a panacea, Taylor said. Commuters still must get to the base from the train.

Harford Transit Service, the county's transportation agency, likely will be required to augment its intracounty service. Michael Hannan, HTS administrator, said yesterday that he plans to ask for money to buy 20 new buses during the next two years.

"Military officers probably won't ride our buses, but there will be spinoff jobs in many services industries and those people will use our service," he said.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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