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Dyson Pushes Light Rail, Expansion of Bridge

Senator Seeks Study Of Metrorail Link And Additional Span

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 13, 2005; Page SM01

State Sen. Roy P. Dyson has proposed measures in Annapolis that would advance consideration of light rail service in Southern Maryland and accelerate expansion of the bridge that links St. Mary's and Calvert counties.

Dyson (D-St. Mary's) wants to create a commission that would look into bringing commuter rail service to the tri-county area, saying mass transit is sorely needed in a region with growing traffic congestion.

Sen. Roy P. Dyson has proposed a bill that would require construction of a second span on the congested Thomas Johnson Bridge to begin by 2011. (Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)

"When should we build light rail in Southern Maryland?" Dyson said. "It should have been here yesterday."

The 18-member commission would also look at road improvements and other strategies to relieve congestion and issue recommendations to the General Assembly by Nov. 1, 2006, under a bill sponsored by Dyson and Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles).

Dyson's other bill would push up construction of a second span on the often-clogged Thomas Johnson Bridge, which carries Route 4 across the Patuxent River between Calvert and St. Mary's counties. The measure would require planning on the span to begin next year and construction to start by 2011.

Both measures came under fire from officials at the state Department of Transportation, who said road improvements are more effective ways of relieving congestion than light rail or a second span on the Thomas Johnson Bridge.

"This is a little bit of grandstanding on [Dyson's] part," said Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan.

A light rail line connecting Southern Maryland to the Metro system would cost more than $1 billion and cause "hyper-development," he said.

"My question would be to Southern Maryland: Do they want a Baltimore City-type of density in their communities?" Flanagan said. "Apparently Senator Dyson does and that's what he supports. But I question whether that's a widespread view."

Wayne Cooper, president of the Charles Board of County Commissioners, said there is strong support in Charles for a light rail line from White Plains to the Branch Avenue Metro station in Prince George's County.

"People have been asking for light rail for years," Cooper said.

A 1999 study by the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland forecast up to 25,000 daily trips by 2020 on a Charles-Prince George's light rail line. Regional planners have also considered a line that would extend as far south as Lexington Park in St. Mary's County.

Dyson said light rail could be built on CSX lines in Charles and St. Mary's counties. He said northern Calvert could also be connected to a light rail system, possibly along the same railway lines that connected Washington and Chesapeake Beach in the early 1900s.

Greg Bowen, Calvert's director of planning, said county residents have asked him for years whether light rail could go down the center of Route 2/4. Probably not, Bowen tells them. Some local officials, however, are less enthusiastic about light rail in the county.

"It would be the end of Calvert County as we know it," said Commissioner Gerald W. Clark (R-Lusby). "The more light rail you put in, the more people you get. It would just ruin the quality of life and the rural, country feel here."

But Dyson said something needs to be done to address the gridlock in Southern Maryland, the fastest growing region in the state.

"I really think that we're still perceived as being essentially a rural area," Dyson said. "I hate to say it, but we've become suburban."

Transportation officials said light rail does little to ease congestion. Road improvements and bus service are the most effective ways to decrease commute times, they said.

"The commuter bus system in Southern Maryland is the most successful in the state," said Erin Henson, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Department.

Neil J. Pedersen, administrator of the State Highway Administration, questioned whether adding a span to the Thomas Johnson Bridge was a priority for the region. He said the project is on a list of long-term requests, but there is no timetable for beginning work.

Neither Calvert nor St. Mary's has identified the second span as its top transportation request, Pedersen said.

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