Md. opposes D.C. rail diversion plan

The Baltimore Sun

An agency charged with overseeing land-use planning in the Washington region identified yesterday three possible routes to divert freight rail traffic -- including tankers containing hazardous chemicals -- away from the center of the nation's capital.

A nine-month, $1 million feasibility study by the National Capital Planning Commission suggested two possible routes through Southern Maryland to Jessup and another that would run through a tunnel under the Anacostia section of Washington and into Prince George's County.

The report was praised by the District of Columbia government, which commissioned the report. "This study shows that it is possible to eliminate a serious security threat to the nation's capital," said Emeka Moneme, director of the District's Department of Transportation.

But Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said two of the proposed routes were "simply unacceptable" and expressed skepticism about the third.

District leaders have long been concerned that the CSX freight line through Washington, which runs just blocks from the National Mall and the Capitol, could pose an inviting target for terrorists. Among other cargoes, the railroad line has carried tank cars with such hazardous contents as chlorine.

The report also ran into political trouble on Capitol Hill, where the No. 2 leader in the House of Representatives expressed concern that two of the proposed routes would run through the growing Southern Maryland counties he represents.

"While I remain supportive of efforts to secure the National Capital Region by reducing the threats posed by hazardous cargo, I would be strongly opposed to any plan that would only shift the potential risk to other parts of the region or that would come at the expense of the communities along the alternative routes," said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer in a statement issued by his office.

The report suggested three routes -- each costing billions of dollars and involving a new crossing of the Potomac River -- to bypass the current bridge near the Jefferson Memorial:

A tunnel running from the Potomac Yard in Alexandria, Va., to the Anacostia region of Southeast Washington.

A crossing from Stafford County, Va., to western Charles County, connecting to an existing railroad in Waldorf.

A route across the Potomac near the U.S. 301 bridge, passing through La Plata on its way to Waldorf.

Porcari, who was briefed on the report last week, fired off a blunt letter accusing the Washington planning commission of ignoring the potential dangers of diverting hazardous cargo through Southern Maryland.

"You have not solved the security problem, but have simply displaced it," Porcari wrote.

Bill Dowd, the commission's director of project planning, rejected Porcari's criticism. He called the objections from Maryland "premature" and denied that Southern Maryland residents would face the same level of threat people in the District of Columbia now do.

"I would also not concede that all of the information in Mr. Porcari's letter is true and factual," Dowd said.

But Porcari said yesterday that the report sidestepped the question of who would pay the costs of a rail bypass, which he said could run as high as $5.3 billion.

He said that as it stands, Maryland would not contribute any money to the project.

"It would be very difficult to do anything like that without state support," Porcari said.

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