Light rail project plans to be discussed next week
State sec. of transportation to meet with commissioners
Every fall, the state takes a look at its transportation priorities and decides what projects can take the next steps on the Maryland Transit Administration’s priority list.
Pete Rahn, the state’s secretary of transportation, will visit the Charles County Board of Commissioners next Tuesday to hear about the county’s top transportation needs. Among them will be the Southern Maryland Rapid Transit initiative.
On the Monday prior to the meeting, Gary Hodge, an advocate for the light rail system and a former county commissioner, will host a community briefing on the system to bring citizens up to speed on the project, where it goes from there and what to look for from the state and the secretary moving forward.
The county is wrapping up a study right now, Hodge said, that shows the “overwhelming benefits” of the transit line to Southern Marylanders and the state. “The benefits are apparent. There’s no denying them,” he said.
After the state reviews the study and, if things go according to plan, the project will move into the project planning phase, which is the phase in which the state does its own checks on the project and sees what will be required.
Jason Groth, the chief of resource and infrastructure management in Charles County,
said the county is preparing the best it can for the project planning phase. Right now, the priority is convincing the state that the project should move forward into that phase.
The project has been “contemplated” in this area for about 10 years and the state must still determine whether the transit project should be a light rail system or a bus rapid transit system depending on the different benefits each system will give to the county and their costs.
The results of the county’s study should be out to the public within a month, Groth said, and will highlight the different benefits for each system.
Next week, the county’s board of commissioners will meet with the secretary of transportation and some of these facts will come into play, Groth said.
The key piece to the project, he said, is the state authorizing the completion of project planning, which is “three or four more years” of work. The study could go a long way toward convincing Rahn the project should move forward next week.
“It’s really project planning lite. It doesn’t have all of the components of a project planning study, but it has many of them,” Groth said. “When the project is complete, we should have a recommendation as to whether the project is appropriate as bus rapid transit or light rail.”
The county will also have a rough idea where the final alignment of the system should be, Groth said, after the study is completed.
The light rail would be more beneficial to the county, Groth said, because of the amount of passengers a train car is able to carry, the lack of traffic that will be surrounding the system as opposed to a bus that will be on the road, and long term maintenance costs.
Charles County will be battling against other state transit projects like the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, or Metro, Purple Line in Prince George’s County and the Red Line in Baltimore City, but Groth said the county has a great case because of its commuter base. The county’s current commuter system is largely through a bus system that adds to difficult traffic conditions, he said.
“Right now we have about 60 percent of our workforce in the county that leaves every day for work,” Groth said. “We’ll be able to keep people in the county, attract businesses and create a reverse commute.”
The line will be beneficial to those in Prince George’s County who are looking to travel to Charles County for shopping, tourism and other necessities as well, Groth said.
Things are looking positive right now for the system, Hodge said, but securing state approvals are necessary. “The ball is in their court right now,” he said. “We’re just hoping for a favorable decision.”
To get that, Hodge said, having public input and participation is important. Southern Maryland citizens have to let legislators at all levels of government know how necessary a rapid transit line is and how rough their daily commutes are.
“That’s why I’m having community briefings. We need the people involved and connected to leaders to make this happen,” Hodge said.