All talk and no action about Aberdeen 'transportation hub'

"The Maryland Department of Transportation has big plans for a greener, more vibrant neighborhood around the Aberdeen train station, although, as it became clear during Thursday evening's public presentation, those plans are still a long way from becoming reality."

That's how reporter Bryna Zumer began her story in The Record last week about plans to modernize the train station in Aberdeen.

It's not the words "greener" or "more vibrant" that stick out in my mind, it's the phrase "those plans are still a long way from becoming reality."

For as long as I can remember in my time here, which is 17 years, the City of Aberdeen has been talking about fixing up the area around the train station.

Since that pedestrian bridge, that Concrete Monster, went up in the early 1980s, from what I'm told, the Aberdeen train station has gone downhill. It divided the City of Aberdeen and brought the station down with it.

In a quick search of our electronic archives, I found at least a half dozen stories written over the years about "efforts" to improve-enhance-beautify (or whatever word you want to use) the station to make it into a transportation hub. I'm sure there were even more articles published before we went to an electronic archive system. Here are a few I found:

From November 1997: "The city of Aberdeen has taken the first step toward revitalization of the train station on Route 40, awarding a Bel Air engineering and architectural firm a contract to design a plan of attack." Frederick Ward got the $5,900 contract to evaluate how the train station is used and will develop both alternate uses and improvements to present uses.

The station has the potential to be a "real transportation hub," Craig Ward said then.

From September 1999: Another combined effort between the city and county are efforts to revitalize the MARC train station on Route 40. City officials would like it to become a major transportation hub that will serve all facets of the population as well as be a place visitors can use as a resource. County officials said an improved train station will help the county attract more corporate players into the area.

From November 2005: "Also included in… a report is a new train station and transportation hub at Route 715 and the rail line. The new station would replace the Aberdeen train station and serve as home for expanded bus services in the county."

From March 2006: "In the 'War Room' at Aberdeen City Hall, where the mayor and council keep their offices, there's an artist's rendering of an ultramodern, glass, steel and brick train station. The full color concept, mounted on the wall, would be the center of a number of proposed transportation projects ahead of expansion at Aberdeen Proving Ground."

This last one came about after it was announced Aberdeen Proving Ground would be on the receiving end of the BRAC process, with 10,000 jobs estimated to come to the post and thousands more in related contracting work.

From April 2009: "The [Chesapeake Science and Security Corridor] has contracted with URS Corp in Hunt Valley to assess and evaluate the feasibility of a multi-modal transportation center in the Aberdeen area. The hub would serve to accommodate rail, commuter and local bus, and shuttle service on and off Aberdeen Proving Ground because of the identified increase in commuters resulting from the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, which is expected to bring 28,000 jobs to the APG region."

And from last week's article: "Transit officials took the first step by unveiling the transit-oriented development master plan for Aberdeen: a 'greenway' network that includes a tree-lined boulevard and park space; a stepped, amphitheater-type area to serve as a crossing between Bel Air Avenue and the station instead of the current, gritty-looking walkway; and greater activity around the Festival Park area."

So now it's 2011, 14 years after that 1997 article, and little, if anything, has been done to make the Aberdeen train station a "transportation hub" or a "multimodal center." Sure, a few improvements have been made here and there, but not the vast, sweeping changes that have been discussed. The City of Aberdeen, the Maryland Department of Transportation and other agencies are still just talking about this major traffic hub in the city.

BRAC would have been the perfect opportunity for the federal, state and local governments to do something – anything – to even come close to what it is that's envisioned for the Aberdeen train station.

It's been 14 years (I'm sure a lot longer) of talking and spending money to study and design a new transportation center in Aberdeen. All this talk sure sounds like a good idea, but the talk needs to be turned into action. Otherwise, nothing is ever going to get done. At the rate we're going, we'll still be talking about a new train station in another 14 years, with nothing to show for all the conversation.

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