Transit plan aids MARC

The Baltimore Sun

La Plata -- The Maryland Department of Transportation has allocated $25 million toward acquiring and refurbishing a Baltimore maintenance yard now owned by CSX Corp. - a move that eventually could help it expand and improve its often overcrowded MARC train services.

The money was the largest single addition to the department's six-year Consolidated Transportation Program released yesterday in Charles County.

The 2007-2012 draft update unveiled yesterday includes $79.7 million in new projects added to the $13 billion, six-year plan. The program is updated annually at a series of meetings with county leaders, who comment on the draft before the final program is adopted.

This year, Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan traveled to this Southern Maryland community for the first of this fall's meetings - briefing Charles County lawmakers and commissioners on local projects and issues of statewide importance.

Flanagan said the planned acquisition of the CSX Riverside facility on the Camden Line in South Baltimore could help MARC gain more control over its operations.

"Right now, we are a captive of CSX and Amtrak," Flanagan said. Owning its own maintenance facility would enable MARC to open up its maintenance function to competitive bidding, he said.

MARC officials have long complained that maintenance of their equipment comes low on the list of priorities for CSX and Amtrak, which own the lines on which the commuter trains operate. Flanagan said acquiring the facility could help in the long term with an expansion of capacity on MARC, which has experienced a steady growth of ridership in spite of its often-inconsistent service.

The MARC acquisition was one of a relatively few big-ticket additions to the six-year plan, which is largely tied up in expensive multiyear projects.

Other noteworthy additions include $6.2 million for improvements to Route 404 in Caroline County - the main road to Delaware beaches - and $6.9 million to replace a bridge at Charles Street and the Beltway in Baltimore County. The state is also proposing to spend $4 million on planning a modernization of two older concourses at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The department has also allocated $2 million - twice the previously announced amount - for the study of a possible extension of the Washington-area Metro's Green Line from its current terminus at Greenbelt to BWI. Interest in the extension of the Green Line has been spurred by an expected influx of jobs at Fort Meade as a result of the U.S. military's Base Realignment and Closure program.

Among other things, Flanagan said, the study will look at whether it would make sense to eventually connect the Washington Metro with Baltimore's rail transit system.

"There is a lot of excitement about that vision," he said.

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