Md. to Study Taking Metro to Columbia

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 6, 2006

A new transportation study will examine the feasibility of a downtown Columbia stop as part of a possible multibillion-dollar extension of Metrorail to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The $1 million study, provided for in the budget the General Assembly approved last week, is a sign of increasing support by key transportation planners in Annapolis for an extension of the Green Line from Greenbelt to BWI.

Del. Elizabeth Bobo (D-Howard), who lobbied for language in the budget requiring planners to consider a stop in Columbia, said many residents have expressed support for bringing mass transit to Howard County.

"I hear this a lot, from people looking down the road, that they would like it," Bobo said.

She said the topic has come up in recent months at every meeting about future development in downtown Columbia.

Partly in response to the expected growth at Fort Meade over the next decade, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) has thrown his support behind the project, which one administration official estimated would cost $2.5 billion.

"You don't want the growth to occur and then to try to catch up with it. That ties your hands," Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said. "We need to anticipate growth that we know is going to occur and plan the subway and the growth together so that they work in unison."

The study, which will be conducted by the Maryland Transit Administration, will begin this summer and take 12 to 18 months, transportation officials said.

If constructed, the project would achieve a longtime, yet expensive, transportation goal of connecting the Baltimore and Washington transit systems. Baltimore's light-rail system extends to BWI.

State Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr. (D-Prince George's), a strong proponent of the Green Line extension, said planners talked for years about Columbia as a possible connecting point between the two cities. After the Pentagon approved a plan last year to expand Fort Meade -- a move that could bring tens of thousands of people to the surrounding region -- Giannetti said it became clear that the rail extension needed to go through the base in Anne Arundel County, about eight miles east of Columbia.

Transportation officials said the extension could be paid for by a combination of federal and state money, private investment and contributions from Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Howard counties.

"You really need Howard County's money to make this work," Giannetti said. "They are one of the wealthiest counties in the country."

He has proposed a "Guilford/Columbia East" stop on the Green Line, near Interstate 95 and Route 32. Bus service could then connect that stop to downtown Columbia, he said.

"That's how we get Howard County's money," said Giannetti, who added that Howard County Executive James N. Robey (D) has pledged to support the project. Robey did not respond to requests for comment.

Giannetti said he would be receptive to extending the Green Line all the way to Columbia. But he and Bobo said it was too early to support running the Green Line into Columbia before the study is completed.

"It may not be feasible. I don't have any illusions," Bobo said, adding that the project would be years away.

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens (D) said the extension might still be decades off but described the $1 million earmarked for the study as a "quantum leap."

"I'm very encouraged," she said. "We've made real progress in taking a dream and at least beginning."

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