State transportation officials have earmarked $1 million to study a potential extension of Washington's Metrorail to Laurel, Fort Meade and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, taking the first step toward possibly linking the Washington and Baltimore transit systems.
Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said yesterday that growth between Baltimore and Washington, soon to be intensified by a defense job boom at Fort Meade, would eventually turn the two cities into one metropolis. He said the state must begin developing the next upgrade of mass transit to meet future demand.
"We need to come up with alternative transportation solutions," Flanagan said. "We have previously emphasized the MARC, which is an excellent service. [But] we need additional tools. This is a very good strategy."
The feasibility study would lay the groundwork for federal environmental studies; plans with Metro and the affected counties; and funding options for a 20-mile extension estimated to cost at least $2 billion, Flanagan said. The study, part of a six-year transportation budget, must be approved by the General Assembly.
Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens said inclusion of the study funds in the six-year transportation budget moves the debate over a Metro expansion up a decade, meaning it could be completed within 20 years.
"It's a beginning. ... That's an absolute quantum leap forward," Owens said.
Virginia officials have pushed for years for a 23-mile Metro extension to just beyond Washington Dulles International Airport. The first environmental study was conducted in 2000; the estimated $3.5 billion project is expected to be completed in 2015.
Discussion of a potential Green Line extension from Greenbelt to points north was generated by Fort Meade's release in June of a three-decade master plan for managing growth in and around the 5,400-acre Army post. Flanagan revealed then that state officials were developing conceptual plans for a similar Green Line proposal.
Owens said a feasibility study would "begin a genuine planning process" for managing growth from Laurel to BWI, affecting Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties and potentially Howard County.
Between 20,000 and 25,000 government and private-sector contractors are expected to settle at Fort Meade within the next decade because of a national military realignment approved last year.
Owens said government agencies relocating to the western Anne Arundel post, along with business interests, are pushing for transportation solutions to relieve the anticipated congestion.