Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is urging CSX Transportation to find a site in the city for its multi-million dollar cargo transfer center rather than look for a site in suburbs to the south.

In a letter to CSX President and CEO Michael J. Ward released Thursday, the mayor said she was "deeply troubled" that plans for the Baltimore-Washington Rail Intermodal Facility have stalled and expressed concern that if a new rail yard was not completed soon, "economic opportunity will pass us by."

The truck-to-rail center would allow CSX to bypass the narrow, century-old Howard Street tunnel beneath the city and double-stack containers trucked from the Port of Baltimore onto freight trains. State officials believe the project is key to continued growth at the port.

State officials are banking on the center's being ready to take advantage of the port's new deep-water berth at the Seagirt Marine Terminal, which will be able to handle the massive, post-Panamax freighters expected to begin arriving in 2015.

CSX and the state have identified four potential sites for the 70-acre center: Elkridge and the Montevideo Road area off U.S. 1 in Howard County, Jessup in Anne Arundel County, and Beltsville in Prince George's County. Depending on the site, construction costs are estimated at between $140 million and $325 million.

Residents of Elkridge, the location of the closest and least expensive site, have objected to the traffic and noise associated with a freight yard.

In her letter, Rawlings-Blake makes the case for Baltimore: "This multi-million dollar investment will create jobs for Baltimore's residents and secure the Port of Baltimore's future. It's easy to see a scenario where CSX could work with the Mayor's Office of Employment Development to help identify, recruit, and train city residents for these future job opportunities."

Courtney Watson, the Howard County Council representative for Elkridge, said Thursday that she wished Rawlings-Blake success with the project.

"My hope is that CSX will be able to find a site in conjunction with the Mayor of Baltimore that meets the goals of the economic development for the Port and has little impact on residential areas," Watson said in an email.

Watson, who said the impact of a freight yard in Elkridge would be "intolerable," noted that the proposed site was close to 300 homes and an elementary school.

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

Reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.

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