Plan for Metro to BWI Gaining Momentum

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 10, 2006

As Virginia moves closer to extending Metrorail to Dulles International Airport, Maryland officials are ramping up plans and support for their own multibillion-dollar extension to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The General Assembly late last month approved a $1 million study of the proposed 20-mile extension of the Green Line, the latest sign that the project -- long considered a pie-in-the-sky transit wish -- has increasingly become a top priority for key transportation planners in Annapolis.

"Clearly, we're racing the clock, because they are going to start building that rail up to Dulles," said Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr. (D-Prince George's), a strong proponent of the project. "If we don't connect Metro to BWI, we're not going to remain competitive."

Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said the project is also needed to handle the explosive growth at Fort Meade called for by the Pentagon's base realignment plan. Some officials said the plan will bring as many as 50,000 residents to the area.

"You don't want the growth to occur and then to try to catch up with it. That ties your hands," 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 project would fulfill a decades-old goal of connecting the transit systems in Washington and Baltimore, which are quickly merging into one metropolitan area.

Aris Melissaratos, Maryland's secretary of business and economic development, said he is pushing for the extension -- which could cost about $2.5 billion -- to be completed within 10 years. Other officials and transit advocates said it was too early to offer any estimates. They said they believe the study by state transportation planners will give more accurate numbers when it is completed by early 2008.

"We need to take a reality check. All of this is pretty far out," said Ben Ross, president of the Action Committee for Transit, a public transportation advocacy group in Montgomery County. "It's very easy for [Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R)] to say he wants to build something when no construction money will have to be spent until long after he's in office."

Ross said he would support an extension of the Green Line but believes the region's top priority should be the Purple Line, a proposed link between Bethesda and Silver Spring that was shelved by the Ehrlich administration. "If we're serious about transit, we ought to get going on the Purple Line and not starting other studies," he said.

The Green Line extension would create the first Metro station in Anne Arundel, a fast-growing county of 500,000 people. One proposed alignment would also bring Metrorail to Howard County for the first time.

"We have to encourage people to get off the roads," said Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens (D), a booster of the extension project. "If everyone is in gridlock, that doesn't help the economy, that doesn't help the environment, that doesn't help any of us."

Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said the project's major obstacle will be its multibillion-dollar price tag.

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