Backers of a proposed high-speed train running between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., said legislation that would block the use of state funds on the project is unnecessary, and would send a negative signal to the line’s private-sector investors.
“We’ve been very clear that we’re not going to be seeking state appropriations for this project,” said Ian Rainey, senior vice-president of Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail (BWRR), the company spearheading the new line.
“It seems to me that it’s intended to send a signal that the state really doesn’t support this project — or wouldn’t support it — if it were called upon to offer some kinds of appropriation,” he added.
Rainey offered his comments to the House Environment and Transportation Committee on Friday, during a hearing on House Bill 63, sponsored by Del. Nicole A. Williams (D-Prince George’s).
BWRR hopes to build a Super-Conducting Magnetic Levitation — or Maglev — train capable of traveling 311 miles per hour. Backed by the Japanese government, the train could get passengers from one city to the other in 15 minutes.
“Our tax dollars cannot go to funding this project,” Williams told the panel.
She said the project’s backers “want to keep the option of coming back to the state for funding that they have repeatedly stated that they do not need.”
The project is unpopular in Prince George’s County, where residents fear the impact of construction, the loss of parkland and vibration. They have also complained that the train would run through — but not stop in — the county.
Several municipal officials from Prince George’s testified against the project.
“As the state invests its dollars, it needs to make sure that it is ensuring equity, and it needs to make sure that it is lifting up our communities,” said Prince George’s County Councilmember Dannielle Glaros (D), whose district would be impacted by construction.
Backers of the project said it would create thousands of jobs.
“This once-in-a-lifetime project… can help young people build lifelong careers and opportunity,” said Jason Rodriguez, spokesman for the greater Baltimore Chapter of the National Action Network, the organization founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton. “(It) will lift thousands of local youth into high-paying, fulfilling careers.”
The project would cost between $10 billion and $12 billion, according to estimates. A draft environmental impact statement was released on Jan. 15, starting a 90-day period of public comment. Two members of Congress have asked the Federal Railroad Administration to give the public more time to review the 4,000-page document.
The long-term goal is to have high-speed train service between D.C. and New York.
The Maglev project has the potential to divide transit advocates in the legislature, and beyond.
Committee Chairman Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) noted that objections to the Purple Line, the light rail line under construction between New Carrollton and Bethesda, delayed that project for more than two decades.
“The only thing that’s ever really successfully recycled in Maryland are arguments against transportation projects,” he said. “I did not want the people in the down-county [of Montgomery County] to delay the Purple Line for 25 years, but they did, and it’s a financial catastrophe.”
A Senate version of Williams’ bill, Senate Bill 188, is sponsored by Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), chairman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.