The plan to build a 10.5-mile Red Line transit service to carry commuters from Woodlawn to Fells Point is in the earliest stages of study by state officials.
But with glossy brochures, "open house" signs at public meetings and large maps of the proposed route, some Woodlawn community leaders say it feels as though the east-west corridor project is for sale, not for consideration.
And with fears about crime and trash accompanying any new light rail or rapid-transit bus route, neighborhood leaders say they are not convinced of Maryland Transit Administration assertions that the commuter line would reduce traffic jams and spur economic development.
"I think they want to sell us a bunch of goods," said Van Ross, president of the Woodlawn Community Council, an umbrella organization of neighborhood groups. "There's a perception that this will be placed through and on the outskirts of primarily minority neighborhoods."
Cheron Wicker, an MTA spokeswoman, said the purpose of this week's meetings is to hear concerns such as those voiced by Woodlawn leaders. "We want to hear everyone's concerns so that we can properly address them," she said.
"This study is something the public has wanted for many, many years," Wicker said. "But it's a study; we're looking at all the alternatives, including doing nothing."
The precise route of the Red Line - as well as whether it would consist of a new light rail line, expansion of existing bus service, or both - has not been determined. And decisions about the project will not come until the spring of 2007, according to the MTA.
But preliminary drafts depict a loop around Security Square Mall, past the Social Security Administration, down Cooks Lane and then along Edmondson Avenue through West Baltimore, downtown, past Patterson Park, with a loop in Canton and Fells Point.
The line would connect to existing Metro, light rail and MARC train lines at various points along the route, drafts show.
The funding for about half of the project's cost would come from the federal government, with state and local governments paying the rest, officials have said. The state has budgeted $240 million for the study and possible construction over six years, Wicker said.
At an open house Tuesday sponsored by the MTA at the Woodlawn Community Center - the second in a series of six public meetings this week in neighborhoods along the proposed line - residents milled about the room, watching video tapes, collecting brochures and studying large maps with dotted lines showing where trains and buses could run.
The forum reminded some attendees of touring a model home for a new housing development. Ross said she is looking forward to the question-and-answer sessions that state officials say they will hold late next year or early in 2007.
Denise Moore, president of the Hilltop Community Association, said her community has not decided whether to support the project. She was gathering information for her neighbors to consider, even though she said she doesn't like the idea.
"Woodlawn is already a dumping ground for the state, just look at the number of group homes," Moore said. "There are a lot of hard-working African-American people in this community. And we don't want to see the trash, crime and undesirable people coming into the neighborhoods."
Moore and others wondered why the proposed line wouldn't stretch into areas such as Catonsville, and they wanted to know whether any private land would be condemned for the project.
"A lot of it depends on where they take the right of way," said Ray Dion, vice president of the Gwynn Oak Community Association.
While new service could reduce traffic on the Baltimore Beltway, Dion and others said they worry that it would give criminals ready access to their neighborhoods.
"If they had better security than they do on the light rail, maybe some of the concerns would be resolved," said Joseph Morzeck, who lives in Westgate, adding, "We need more public transportation, especially with gas prices so high and the roads so clogged."