UMBC hopes to build connections with Catonsville using Short Line Trail

The campus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County is only a short distance from Catonsville High School, Rolling Road Golf Club, the Catonsville Y and other local institutions.

Now, school officials are working to bridge a gap that may seem wider than Wilkens Avenue between its campus and Catonsville, by way of the Short Line Trail.

The connection would allow university students, many of who don't have cars on campus, to travel to Catonsville on foot or by bike.

"There's no way for the kids to get down to [Catonsville]," said Maureen Sweeney Smith, a member of Catonsville Rails to Trails.

Catonsville Rails to Trails is restoring the Short Line Trail, a hiking and biking trail, as part of an effort to make Catonsville a more walkable and bikeable community.

Incorporating it as a connection with UMBC would be beneficial to both the campus and the Catonsville community, said Thomas Ajluni, president of Catonsville Rails to Trails.

"I think that it will provide opportunities for the students at UMBC to utilize the businesses in Catonsville. The trail connection will be advantageous to both the Catonsville community and UMBC students," said Ajluni, pointing out that the campus has little access to nearby nightlife and restaurants for the students.

The trail would not be a one-way connection either. Aljuni cited the new performing arts center on the campus as one of the many resources the university has to offer its neighbors in Catonsville.

Teal Cary, executive director of the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce, said in an email that the trail could bring more business to Catonsville.

"The Chamber, also, continues to want to see a stronger relationship between UMBC and our community, in particular the commercial district. We think the trail connecting the college to the center of town would be a great asset and the perfect way to encourage students and college staff to patronize our local businesses on Frederick Road," Cary said.

The Short Line Trail is a former railroad that was built in 1883 but shut down in 1973 after running its last carload to Catonsville in April 1972, according to the Catonsville Rails to Trails website.

About 1 mile of the 2.2-mile trail has been restored east of Interstate 695 by the volunteer-based organization. The group is continuing to restore part of the trail from Bloomsbury Avenue west to Interstate 695.

A section of the trail from Bloomsbury Avenue to Mellor Avenue has been completed and will soon be resurfaced, Aljuni said.

UMBC hopes to connect bicycle paths on its campus to the Short Line Trail.

"In 2011, UMBC hired a consultant to investigate options for connecting the campus to the Short Line Trail, which compared two alternate routes — one from Hilltop Road to Bloomsbury Road and the other that runs from Valley Road through the Spring Grove Hospital campus," Celso Guitian, a campus planner for UMBC, said in an email.

The study concluded that the route through Spring Grove was the better of the two, due to the narrow existing right-of-way of Hilltop Road, Guitian said.

That route, however, posed a significant challenge, safely crossing Wilkens Avenue at Valley Road.

"Solutions for this crossing will require a partnership with County Planning officials and the State Highway Administration as either a reconfiguration of the intersection of Wilkens Avenue and Valley Road or a new mid-block signalized crossing at Walker Avenue may be needed," Guitian said.

UMBC hasn't contacted the State Highway Administration (SHA) or Baltimore County to discuss the crossing and hasn't pursued state highway alternative transportation grants that might be available for bicycling improvements, Guitian said.

They're in the stages of making contacts with Rails to Trails and Baltimore County to study the intersection crossing, Guitian said.

"One idea is to leverage each of our strengths to get the State Highway Administration and Maryland Department of Transportation to partner with us to make improvements to Wilkens Avenue. The best way would be to jointly craft a proposal for design funding and, when appropriate, construction funding from one of their transportation grant programs," he said.

Guitian said the facilities management department is in the process of developing a master plan for bicycling to complement other facilities, including buildings, storm water, parking and utilities, to plan for future growth.

"UMBC supports the Short Line Trail and connecting to the trail will be one of the issues addressed in the bicycling master plan, expected to be completed in the Spring or early summer of 2014," he said.

The school can't comment on the costs or timeline at this point, Guitian said.

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