Don't forget the trail [Editorial]

The Aegis

The City of Aberdeen learned last week it has been awarded a grant for nearly $800,000 for enhancements to the area around the Amtrak-MARC train station.

Included in the planned renovations will be new benches, bike racks, signs and landscaping, as well as anti-crime additions such as improved lighting, Phyllis Grover, Aberdeen’s director of planning and community development, said.

The Transportation Alternatives Program grant, or TAP, comes from the federal government through Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration, which is dispersed through the Baltimore Metropolitan Regional Transportation Board, according to county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby.

Harford County also applied for a TAP grant of $2.65 million to complete the Ma & Pa Heritage Trail through Bel Air but did not get funds for that project, Mumby said. There is a possibility of still getting money through another disbursement later this fall, she said.

Let’s hope that happens, because as important as the train station improvements are to Aberdeen and the thousands of rail commuters and hundreds of Amtrak riders who use the station weekly, the closing of the final gap in the Ma & Pa Trail is just as important to tens of thousands of trail users and potential users.

Aberdeen’s grant for $796,342 is one of the largest awards the city has received, Randy Robertson, Aberdeen’s city manager, said.

“It’s a big amount of money and from my perspective, it will have a tremendously positive impact on community and getting people to consider commuting,” he said.

“On top of the $300,000 for inside the station a few months ago, what you’ll see is a completely new train station in the not-too-distant future,” Robertson said of a prior grant the city received for the station.

“It will be great for the area around the station, the commuters who use it on a daily basis and the residents who live around it,” Grover said.

The county was not awarded a grant through the transportation board, understandable perhaps since the board only had $2.1 million available to give out; however, the county is still eligible to receive TAP funding directly through the Maryland Department of Transportation, according to Mumby.

The Ma & Pa Trail completion is a big, important project, too, one which will have similar lasting benefits from both an economic development and a quality-of-life standpoint as will the train station improvements in Aberdeen.

The final 2-mile link between Ellendale Street and the Forest Hill leg of the Ma & Pa Trail will create a continuous walking and biking trail of 7.5 miles from Fallston to Forest Hill, and will bring the trail through the north side of Bel Air.

Both Bel Air town officials and county officials and local business leaders believe the completed trail will bring more visitors to downtown Bel Air and be a boost to the town’s economy. We share such optimism.

After years of getting a pittance from the state in transportation funding, Harford has seen recent successes, such as the improvements underway at Route 22 and Thomas Run Road and the money coming for the Aberdeen station.

The state needs to keep the momentum going by recognizing the importance and statewide benefits of the Ma & Trail completion project and funding it accordingly.

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