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From vibrations to mosquitoes, plans to replace B&P tunnel draw concerns

The options recently shortlisted for replacing the Baltimore & Potomac Tunnel — which carries passenger trains along inefficient curves beneath West Baltimore — have attracted a variety of concerns from residents.

Some registered fears about vibrations rising to the surface along the routes of two proposed replacement tunnels.

"I'm not so sure these 100+ year old homes would not be shaken into oblivion," wrote one Reservoir Hill resident.

Another resident raised an indirect concern about the fate of the existing 140-year-old tunnel if an option to restore it isn't selected.

"If the existing tunnel is not chosen," the resident wrote, "please do not seal it up entirely. Bats come out of there at dusk and feed on our mosquitoes."

The tunnel, owned by Amtrak, currently serves about 85 Amtrak trains, 57 MARC commuter trains and two freight trains each day, and is considered a major choke point for traffic along the Northeast Corridor. Officials are in the midst of an environmental and engineering study to assess viable options for its replacement.

A total of 30 comments, released this week, were collected by the Maryland Department of Transportation before, during and after a public meeting in October on four shortlisted options, including not building a new tunnel; rehabbing the existing tunnel; and two plans involving construction of a new tunnel.

Commenters were encouraged to provide their names and contact information for follow up from the department, but that information was not released publicly in order to protect residents' privacy, said Chuck Brown, a department spokesman.

The first replacement option, known as "Alternative 3," would sweep north from the West Baltimore MARC station, go underground in an industrial area and then arc east for 2 miles beneath Easterwood, Fulton, Penn North and Reservoir Hill before emerging in a rail yard west of Penn Station.

The second option, known as "Alternative 11," would bring tracks east from the MARC station, enter a tunnel in the middle of the struggling Midtown Edmondson neighborhood, then travel for 1.8 miles below parts of Sandtown-Winchester, Harlem Park, Druid Heights, Mount Royal and Bolton Hill before emerging in the same yard near Penn Station.

The second option would be more disruptive on the surface, particularly in a section of Midtown Edmondson that is plagued by abandoned buildings but still has many residents. But commenters also criticized the first replacement option.

"My historic row house is directly above the proposed route of Alternative #3. I am extremely concerned about the damage tunnel construction and operation will cause to a fragile historic home, mine as well as the entire Historic Reservoir Hill community (bus and truck traffic on Eutaw Place currently cause structural damage problems for residents)," one commenter wrote. "I realize your routes are geologically and geographically dictated, however, perhaps further exploration of routes south and west of this community — for example the Sandtown area in the blighted uninhabited urban areas would better serve us all."

One resident, who lives along one of the replacement tunnel routes but didn't specify which one, complained that provided maps have been "difficult to read" and criticized the transportation department for not providing residents with more information.

"You MUST engage neighbors and stakeholder more proactively or expect to be subjected to lawsuits by affected homeowners," the resident wrote. "I am saving the information that I receive from you all and how poorly specified the information is that you provide. Anticipate significant push-back from the community if you continue to proceed with such poor clarity."

Brown said the department has held two public meetings, despite there being no design or construction funding in place yet, and also has posted information about the project on the website bptunnel.com.

Officials will be out in potentially affected communities in coming months seeking additional community feedback, Brown said, and all public comments will be taken into consideration before a final option is selected.

krector@baltsun.com

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