Large parking lot in Eldersburg raises fears of mass transit But county, MTA officials insist the new site will not become a park-and-ride


In Eldersburg, a spacious new parking lot on a field along Liberty Road has revived age-old rumors of public transportation coming from Baltimore to south Carroll County.

The spot will provide parking for the Carroll Square Office Park. Construction has not begun on the four one-story buildings planned by a local developer, but the parking lot has been fodder for much speculation.

Whenever Bruce R. Waldron, county development review coordinator, receives queries, he pulls out construction drawings and describes plans for the 2.5-acre site.

'Outlandish rumors'

Said Carol Reed-Wightman, county commuter transportation coordinator: "We don't know how these outlandish rumors get started. This is a developer's parking area. It might look like a park-and-ride, but it is not."

Emphatic denials from county officials and the Mass Transit Administration have done little to dispel rumors that the MTA might extend its bus line from Randallstown into Eldersburg.

"We don't need or want public transportation," said County Commissioner Richard T. Yates of Eldersburg. "People moved out here to get away from that and knowing that they needed an automobile to go from place to place. Even senior citizens know they have to have cars."

Requests for new bus service usually come from local officials, but MTA also listens to community associations and individual passengers. County officials, buoyed by public sentiment, have long opposed mass transit and have made no such requests.

"Carroll County has not approached us about a line into Eldersburg," said Frank Fulton, MTA manager of media relations and public affairs. "Elected officials in Carroll made it clear they are not interested in public transit."

High-density housing included in a proposed growth plan for south Carroll and increasing numbers of welfare-to-work clients have residents saying public transportation and increased crime are not far behind.

"They are talking about bringing in apartments and buses," said Donna Slack of Eldersburg. "I like the fact that you have to get into a car to get here. It would be too easy for idle kids to jump on a bus and come out here to hang out."

Several residents refused to be quoted by name when discussing the public transportation issue, but many equate buses and Metro trains with crime. They point to increases in vandalism and theft at Metro stations in Owings Mills, Lansdowne and Timonium.

Baltimore County police maintain a presence at light rail and Metro train stations, said Sgt. Kevin B. Novak, a police spokesman. Without an intense study of local crime reports, he said, it would be impossible to attribute an increase or decrease in crime to public transit.

"Crime has not been an issue for a while," Novak said.

Transportation 'obstacle'

Carroll County, with a population approaching 150,000, needs public transportation, said Gloria Bair, family links coordinator with Carroll's Human Services Programs.

Bair helps welfare mothers with job training and placement. Low-paying jobs may abound, she said, but getting to them from the county's rural areas is often impossible.

"In Carroll County, the biggest obstacle to employment is transportation," Bair said. "We already have many people who need public transportation now, and there will be lots more in the future."

Carroll Transit, a private nonprofit company, operates 19 vans that can carry up to 23 passengers. The service is primarily for the disabled and elderly, but the company is carrying a few "transportation-deprived" residents, said James Mathis, president. It may be possible to extend hours -- now 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. -- and add Saturday routes, depending on where riders are and where they are going, Mathis said.

Said Bair, "Carroll Transit does a marvelous job, but it is not able to meet the needs of the very poor here."

While residents balk at bus lines into the county from the metropolitan area, they may be more receptive to public transportation within the county.

"I could see a line from Westminster to satellite sites around the county, where there are employment opportunities," said Joel Hassman of Eldersburg.

MTA has repeatedly said it has no plan to operate in Carroll, although it would be feasible to extend a bus line that ends at Chapman Road near Randallstown Plaza.

"It would be about five more miles to the Carroll County line, not too bad a distance," Fulton said.

MTA is always considering routes and proposals, such as the new bus line from Towson to White Marsh in Baltimore County.

Little support found

An MTA survey of 12,000 Carroll residents in 1995 found little support for public routes into the county. Some Westminster residents expressed an interest in peak-hour service to the Owings Mills Metro station, a route that a private bus company, based in Manchester, operated for several years but gave up for lack of riders. More than half of Carroll's work force commutes to other areas daily.

"We know there are a large number of Carroll County cars parked all day at the Metro station in Owings Mills, but the question is, are there enough to make it worthwhile to extend the Metro into Carroll County," said Janet E. Gregor, Carroll transportation planner. "People are so scattered along the route to Owings Mills that the bus ride would be so long. No one would ride it."

From Columbia, MTA operates routes to downtown Baltimore that average about 100 commuters daily, and 17 buses to the Silver Spring Metro station. The Baltimore Metropolitan Council is completing its six-year route expansion plan, which shows "nothing coming into Carroll County," Gregor said.

MTA representatives have attended several county meetings as Carroll works on its five-year transit plan. That presence may have contributed to rumors, which Gregor insisted are groundless.

"MTA does not feel Carroll County can support it from a financial standpoint," she said. "Opposition is a factor, but if there were dollars to be made they would launch a trial project and see how it works."

Carroll has not reached the population or acquired the public support that would encourage MTA.

"We are so dispersed in terms of where we are going, and we don't live in concentrated areas," Gregor said. "That dispersion does not lend itself to public transportation."

She has only to look at the county's own employment rolls to buttress her point. One of three employees lives in Pennsylvania, she said.

Pub Date: 5/20/98

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