Light rail project plans to be dis­cussed next week

State sec. of trans­porta­tion to meet with com­mis­sion­ers

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­

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.

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