MARC rail line to receive $23.5 million House, Senate reach compromise


WASHINGTON -- Maryland's MARC commuter rail line will receive $23.5 million under an agreement by House and Senate negotiators hammering out the $14 billion federal transportation budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

But working late Friday, the negotiators shut out Baltimore's light-rail line in the scramble for federal dollars, aides to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland said yesterday.

State officials were delighted with the MARC financing. They also said the absence of federal money this year for the light-rail extensions will have no impact because much of the money LTC already has been approved by Congress but has yet to be spent.

The congressional negotiators also approved $20 million for research and development on an experimental magnetic levitation train, a pet project of Ms. Mikulski, who is a member of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that handles the federal transportation budget.

The Baltimore-Washington corridor is one of six areas vying to be the place where the maglev concept would be tested.

Ms. Mikulski had expressed concern about financing for the maglev and Maryland transportation projects, accusing Rep. Bob Carr of Michigan, who heads the House subcommittee that handles transportation funds, of being hostile to both.

The Clinton administration asked this year for $10 million for the MARC system, $18.15 million for the light-rail line and $27.9 million for the maglev project, but Mr. Carr's subcommittee cut all of that money from the budget.

When the budget reached the Senate, the maglev money was restored. In addition, Ms. Mikulski had $25 million included for MARC, but only $3.15 million for the light-rail line because, aides said, her chief transportation priority for Maryland is the popular commuter rail service that carries 20,000 passengers daily on three lines to and from Washington.

A House-Senate conference committee, composed of members of the two appropriations subcommittees, had to work out differences in the two versions of the transportation budget. The committee met late Friday afternoon on a half-hour's notice after Ms. Mikulski, who is on the conference unit, had left Washington for the weekend ill with the flu, aides said.

In addition to the funds that were subject to negotiations in the conference, the transportation budget includes several hundred additional millions of dollars for Maryland, chiefly for highway construction and mass transit operations, funds approved by the House and Senate.

It includes another $12.6 million for MARC, along with $10.5 million for extension of the Baltimore subway line to Johns Hopkins Hospital, and $200 million for extension of the Washington Metro system into Maryland and Virginia.

"We're delighted," Stephen G. Zentz, Maryland's deputy transportation secretary, said of the conference committee's work. "Senator Mikulski obviously was a trouper in getting the MARC money approved."

The MARC funds will be used chiefly to buy rolling stock, both locomotives and double-decker passenger cars, to upgrade a system plagued with delays because of aging and insufficient equipment.

Mr. Zentz said some of the money will be used to help build a 1,500-car parking garage at the BWI rail station.

Speaking of the light-rail extension, Mr. Zentz said Congress already has appropriated $44 million of the $77 million that the state is counting on getting from the federal government for extension of the line to Hunt Valley, the BWI Airport and Penn Station in Baltimore.

Construction should start next year, he said.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad