City gets road funds $28 million package includes authorization for study of monorail; 'This is a major victory'; Transportation bill also provides money for signals, light rail


Baltimore's "people mover" project -- a proposed three-mile monorail from Camden Station to Canton -- has received preliminary funding from Congress, allowing studies and designs proceed.

The authorization is included in $28 million that will be granted directly to the city through the recently passed six-year federal transportation bill. Among the transportation projects authorized are $13.2 million to replace city traffic signals and $10.9 million for road improvements in the city's Empowerment Zone. In addition, the state will receive $120 million to expand Baltimore's light rail system.

Although the congressional funding doesn't guarantee the "people mover" will be built, it opens the door for the city to compete for federal funding if city leaders adopt the option.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced the federal funding yesterday during his weekly news conference. Schmoke played down the "people mover" idea, saying the money will not only be used to study the suggested $210 million Disney World-like tourist transport, but will fund an East-West Downtown Corridor Transportation Project aimed at determining the best way for residents to cut across town east and west.

Whatever city leaders call it, observers say the money could go a long way to relieving the traffic knot in daily downtown traffic.

"This is a major victory for the city in jump-starting the quest to seek a solution to the downtown traffic congestion problems," Florence W. Prioleau, a lobbyist for Patton Boggs, a Washington law firm, wrote in a memo to Schmoke, which the mayor released. Prioleau represents the city in Washington.

In February, Schmoke asked Congress for $1.5 million to determine whether Baltimore should build the futuristic "people mover" transit system, computerized electrical cars on a rail elevated 15 to 20 feet above the street. The project, proposed three decades ago, would run along the Inner Harbor and could be built by 2001 at the earliest, under city projections. Whether the city will get the full $1.5 million was not clear.

Schmoke appeared more excited about the $13.2 million granted to replace citywide traffic signals. The mayor hopes that installing new lights -- and possibly putting in cameras -- will improve the flow of traffic through the city while reducing the rising number of drivers running red lights.

Although a recent national survey ranked Baltimore 55th for fatal crashes caused by motorists running red lights, Schmoke said he is alarmed at the number of incidents being reported.

"This is getting out of control in Baltimore," he said. "I just think people are beginning to look at red lights as cautionary."

The federal money is part of a $200 billion congressional reauthorization of transportation projects. Also included in the city funding were $1.3 million to construct a bicycle and walking path in Druid Hill Park and $2.4 million to upgrade roads in Leakin Park.

The $120 million for the light rail out of Baltimore is long awaited. For years, the state has hoped to double the rail lines where oncoming trains often can't pass. Others want the light rail extended to White Marsh, Security Boulevard or Columbia.

City leaders hope the $10.9 million for infrastructure improvements to the $100 million Empowerment Zone will further entice businesses to relocate to the area. The zones were created by President Clinton in 1994 to spur economic growth in urban areas.

Pub Date: 5/29/98

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