Md. quietly plans for a rail link to Meade


State transportation officials have quietly stepped up planning of a major rail link between the Washington area and Fort Meade, where Pentagon shifts are expected to prompt significant growth in coming years.

Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said his agency began looking at extending the Washington-area Metro several months ago, and he described the discussions as conceptual. The project is at least two decades from completion and could cost a minimum of $1 billion.

"[The] initial concept is somewhat daunting ... but it's worth pursuing," he said.

Political and transportation leaders said that decades of planning would have to be done before the rail line could be extended to Fort Meade. Residents would have to be won over, and environmental obstacles would have to be overcome before the project could become reality.

Flanagan's comments came a day after officials at Fort Meade revealed a three-decade master plan to manage growth in and around the 5,400-acre Army post in western Anne Arundel County. One of the master plan's provisions includes extending the Washington Metro's Green Line by 10 miles, from Greenbelt to Fort Meade, and potentially on to Baltimore. Such a move would accommodate tens of thousands of defense-related jobs expected to be generated by Fort Meade, which has seen its profile rise nationally as a center for defense and information technology.

Echoing other political and business leaders, the transportation secretary said that the anticipated jobs and development in the coming decades along the Baltimore-Washington corridor necessitates seeking transportation solutions, one of them being the possibility of a Metro rail extension.

40,000 jobs

Fort Meade is one of Maryland's largest employers, with about 40,000 jobs. The on-post presence of the National Security Agency generates thousands more in nearby high-technology complexes that house some of the nation's largest defense contractors. More large-scale office space is going up around Fort Meade to accommodate more of these companies.

The transportation secretary said that he has not been in contact with Fort Meade representatives about this concept, which includes continuing the rail extension from the Army post an additional 10 miles to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The potential cost of that extension could be another $1 billion.

"We want to talk to all of the possible parties and interests," Flanagan said. "Fort Meade is among those interests."

He added: "We take the support of Fort Meade very seriously and give it a great deal of weight."

Some said that the challenges of building the line may prove to be overwhelming.

"That won't happen in our lifetime," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat whose district includes Fort Meade.

Flanagan declined to estimate a specific cost for such a project, which, as detailed yesterday, would run along the CSX line that is used for the MARC Camden trains.

The CSX line, going north from Greenbelt, cuts through a Department of Agriculture research center, runs alongside U.S. 1 and continues through Laurel. Flanagan said that line could then follow Route 32 toward the Fort Meade area and continue to BWI.

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens and Fort Meade's commander, Col. John W. Ives, who oversaw development of the master plan, said that a location near the National Business Park, which is across the Baltimore-Washington Parkway from Fort Meade, could serve as a Metro stop.

$100 million a mile

A spokesman for Flanagan confirmed what other transportation officials have said: That each mile of rail would cost at least $100 million. At that rate, the price tag for the Greenbelt-to-Fort Meade extension would be at least $1 billion.

Flanagan mentioned two possible funding sources: One involves creating a special tax assessment district for nearby businesses that would benefit from a rail line. He said a similar concept is being used to help fund a Metro extension to Washington Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia. Another revenue generator could involve an incremental real estate tax on businesses that move into the area, he said.

Maryland projects are usually funded in equal parts from state and federal sources, Flanagan said, but he hoped that the U.S. government would contribute a greater share, considering the benefit to Fort Meade.

But the question remains whether federal funding could be obtained. The Dulles line is one of 14 projects from across the nation that federal transit officials have recommended to Congress for next year.

The 23-mile extension from Metro's Orange Line to just beyond Dulles is expected to cost about $3.5 billion. The first environmental study was conducted in 2000, and the project is not expected to be finished until 2015.

Pentagon proposal

The Pentagon recently recommended transferring 5,300 jobs to Fort Meade as part of its base realignment and closure process, mostly related to the National Security Agency. State officials estimate that influx would generate at least 5,000 more jobs, mostly in the form of NSA contractors, in the next seven years.

Part of Fort Meade's master plan includes using the post's 400-acre golf course as a site for several federal agencies seeking more secure confines that Meade could provide. Such a move could create 20,000 more jobs on post.

Through a spokeswoman, Owens said she was "pleased that the secretary has listened to the concerns of the BWI Business Partnership," which serves the interests of business along the Baltimore-Washington corridor and lobbies on behalf of the fort. "This is good news."

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