Between its rusty chain-link fences and cracked grey cement, the Aberdeen Amtrak/MARC train station is in need of an update, Mayor Patrick McGrady said during a meeting inside the station on Wednesday. And he was not the only one to see it, because sitting in the station were about 40 others — representatives of state, county and federal officials and agencies — who got a firsthand look.
The pitch was simple: The station is important, but it divides the city, separating Aberdeen’s east side from its west side. The structure, particularly its concrete overpass, McGrady said, should have a hole punched through it to give residents more access to jobs, food and the city’s downtown, as well as other improvements made to the station to make it more inviting and accessible.
On the east side of the city, subsidized housing and single-family homes scatter the landscape. Some of the homes have been revamped by Steven Horne, owner of a local concrete company, but others show signs of disrepair, with ivy growing over their front doors. Renovating the train station could change the area, McGrady said, and encourage development.
The city’s east side faces more challenges than its west, McGrady said, including poverty and violence. There is also something of a food desert on the east side, County Councilman Robert Wagner pointed out. McGrady said improving the train station could prime the area for private investment and bring easier access to food for local residents.
The city is seeking funding to tear down the overpass and build a new pedestrian underpass so people do not have to climb many stairs or take a zigzagging series of ramps to cross the tracks. The city also wants to build terraced plazas at the station and improve waiting areas.
Those goals were part of a plan the city developed in 2012, called the transit-oriented development master plan.
While the station has a pedestrian tunnel, it is viewed as unsafe, McGrady said, even though crime is not a problem there. Some people prefer to drive around to the other side of the station instead of taking the tunnel.
“Perception is reality,” he said. “And if you think that you are unsafe, then you are unsafe.”
Representatives from the Maryland Transit Administration said they were onboard with any improvements to the station that would give citizens better access to transportation.
The project would require support from multiple levels of government, McGrady said — hence bringing representatives together to to talk about solutions and tour the station.
Del. Steve Johnson, a Democrat representing District 34A, recommended gathering letters of support from involved agencies like MDOT, Amtrak and Aberdeen Proving Ground to send to federal officials.
Representatives from U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s office and U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger said they were interested in helping make the train station improvements happen. Ruppersberger has been involved in the project since February, McGrady said.
Revamping the train station, McGrady said, is in line with President Joe Biden’s goals on infrastructure, particularly that of improving racial equity in transportation for citizens.
“This is exactly what our transit-oriented development master plan intended to do and we think has taken steps toward doing,” McGrady said.
Amtrak officials said they had designs being vetted internally for station and track improvements. Amtrak owns the station, but the overpass is controlled by the State Highway Administration, McGrady said. SHA officials did not attend Wednesday’s meeting because of impending storms caused by the remnants of Tropical Storm Ida.
McGrady said the next steps for the project were to communicate with all the agencies and officials involved, take advantage of any grants or programs the city can and wait for the results of the infrastructure bill.
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“We want to be positioned with our project and all our stakeholders,” he said.