Councilman welcomes grant

July 06, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

While a $380,000 federal grant for long-awaited improvements at the Odenton and Edgewood MARC stations may be only a small portion of the costs, one Harford County official says the award means the much-anticipated projects are finally moving forward.

For Councilman Dion F. Guthrie, whose district includes Edgewood, the Federal Transit Administration grant announced last week underscores his oft-repeated mantra that "there must be shovels in the ground and not just talk.

"This money means we can tear down the old buildings and start designing the new," Guthrie said. "It means we have gone beyond talking about a new station to budgeting it."

Guthrie has lobbied federal and state officials to keep the Edgewood project on track for construction next year. When the state planners considered pushing it back to 2011, he successfully demonstrated an immediate need for a larger station with more accessible parking.

Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari eliminated all talk of delay earlier this year and said the original schedule will stand. Construction will begin next year on the Edgewood train station, he said.

"The work is scheduled to be advertised this fall and will be ready for construction in 2009," Porcari wrote in a May 2 letter to Guthrie.

The state has installed a sign at the station describing the improvements. The depot will remain accessible throughout construction, officials said.

"I think I finally convinced them of the immediate need for this station," Guthrie said.

Crucial improvements are required so that both stations can accommodate the influx of riders expected to be generated by BRAC, the nationwide military expansion coming to Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County and Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County.

In Odenton, the grant will pay for preliminary engineering and design of a parking garage with as many as 3,500 spaces. In Edgewood, the money will go to demolition of a small cinder block building and design of a $4.2 million station. A weathered trailer on the site will also be removed.

Guthrie has long worked for a modernized station to greet the first wave of BRAC workers arriving at APG. Despite the current limited hours of operation and destinations, about 360 passengers take a train each day from Edgewood, the highest ridership of any station north of Baltimore, officials said. Those fares will only grow. Transportation officials anticipate an increase in train ridership as about 10,000 new jobs come to the Army post.

Three years ago, then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. promised a 2007 groundbreaking at the site of the run-down station, which has been shuttered for more than a decade.

Plans that called for a new depot featuring an automated ticket counter, a waiting area and restrooms have been delayed twice, even though ridership has increased, Guthrie said.

On their annual visit to the county last fall, state transportation officials said they expected to open the unmanned facility by 2010 with an expanded 300-space parking lot that would be wide enough to accommodate at least two 40-foot buses at a time.

Transportation planners are looking to mass transit to alleviate projected congestion, particularly on Interstate 95, as BRAC brings an estimated 30,000 residents to Harford County

At a public workshop earlier this year, state officials unveiled the proposed design that included a landscaped path to the platform, with a groundbreaking scheduled for 2009. Planners have called the construction a fairly simple project that should proceed quickly. The work will not require a new platform or any realignment of track.

Design, which will take about 18 months, and construction will involve coordination with Amtrak, the owner of the rails and much of the surrounding property.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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