Pontiac dealer Bill Cairns wanted the Green Line Metro station near his dealership on Branch Avenue so that service customers could drop off their cars without having to depend on cabs to get home.
Homeowner Joseph Burton wanted the Green Line near the Rosecroft Raceway to shorten commuting time for his south Prince George's County neighbors and to encourage quality development in one of the county's uncongested but fast-growing areas.
Last week, the Metro board tried to end what has become a 14-year wait for the area's last major unchartered rapid rail route and voted unanimously to reaffirm plans to build the line to Rosecroft. But if past is any indicator in the long and increasingly bitter controversy, the fight will not be over for some time to come.
"I'm just going to fight to the bitter end because we've come this far," said Democratic Del. Lorraine Sheehan, a leader of the effort to force construction of the Branch Avenue route.
The argument has become so intense over the last few years that each side has at times resorted to charging the other with racism, back room political manipulation, and attacks on the integrity of each others' political leaders. Many Rosecroft supporters say that they have been taken aback by the way merits of the issue have been overshadowed by strong emotions.
The attacks reached a crescendo over this year's summer-long election campaign, when Sheehan announced that she had been dropped from the incumbent's slate -- despite her two terms in office -- through the influence of Peter F. O'Malley, a long-time Democratic strategist and attorney for the Rosecroft Raceway. Friends of both O'Malley and Sheehan said that the former became embittered over what he considered the increasingly personal nature of Sheehan's campaign, and that Sheehan resented what she perceived as O'Malley's unfair effort to influence the outcome of the dispute through his role as mentor to many Democratic officeholders.
After Sheehan was overwhelmingly re-elected to her third term in November, however, she said she intended "not to have any more shouting matches over [the Metro controversy]... and to continue to argue the issue on its merits." Nevertheless, it is clear that deep divisions remain over the issue. As recently as last week, noisy spectators led by Sheehan and other officials watched the board uphold the Rosecroft line, with some of them loudly pronouncing the county's representative "a crook."
Sheehan and others have been arguing that the Branch Avenue alignment is the only route Metro should be allowed to build since it was the line designated when county voters approved an $88 million bond for Metro construction in 1968.
They argue that businessmen such as Cairns, owner of Bill Cairns Pontiac Inc. -- and many residents -- have been counting on the rapid rail line to enhance businesses along the line and make it easier for residents to get to work. They say the County Council's 1978 decision to move the line several miles south to Rosecroft was politically motivated and fiscally unsound. Branch supporters have paid for their own studies to prove, among other things, that Branch Avenue would attract more riders, displace fewer people, and better serve existing employment centers.
Two years ago, a group of business owners led by Cairns also went to court to try to stop construction on any but the Branch Avenue route and last March, they got a court order holding up construction until new hearings could be held. Metro officials at the time said the delay could jeopardize the future of the entire line. As a result of last week's decision, attorneys for the business owners said they would continue their legal effort to block Rosecroft indefinitely.
"It was meant to go here, it was written here on the master plan and as far as I'm concerned, it will go here," said Cairns, who located his dealership at Branch Avenue and Auth Way in part because the site was about 600 feet from the proposed Branch Avenue station.
"I'm only bitter because my customers need it," he said. "There's no other way to get out here....Any outsider coming in can see that."
But Rosecroft supporters, though less vocal, are equally convinced that the more southern route better serves the needs of the county. They say the Rosecroft line would cost less to build, would carry more riders and is essential to the orderly growth of one of the county's developing areas.
"What it really boils down to," said Burton, and engineer who participated in a seven-year study of the south county's growth needs, "is that it serves more people in south county and better complements our road network. Our road network without Metro is totally inadequate."