UPPER MARLBORO – During a Prince George’s County Council meeting on Oct. 17, council members criticized a proposed high-speed rail project for the burdens it would place on the county. David Henley, project director with the Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail (BWRR), and Kisha Brown, the director of community and external affairs for BWRR, presented an […]
UPPER MARLBORO – During a Prince George’s County Council meeting on Oct. 17, council members criticized a proposed high-speed rail project for the burdens it would place on the county.
David Henley, project director with the Baltimore Washington Rapid Rail (BWRR), and Kisha Brown, the director of community and external affairs for BWRR, presented an overview of the project and its current progress and responded to questions and comments from the council.
The proposed superconducting magnetic levitation, or maglev, train would establish a direct route between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, and, eventually, New York City. At 311 miles per hour, the train would go from D.C. and Baltimore in 15 minutes, and between D.C. and New York in an hour. The maglev uses Japanese technology to harness magnetic fields so that the train would actually levitate above the guideway. The project would cost at least $10 billion.
As of right now, there are three proposed alignments, each of which would go through Prince George’s County. One of the alignments would be similar to Amtrak’s path through the region, while the other two would more closely follow the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
Brown said they are “taking a hard look” at the B-W Parkway alignments in particular because they will have “nowhere near the same level of impacts on communities.”
During the session, the council raised several topics of concern, including why the train wouldn’t stop in the county, what effect any tunneling would have, what benefits the county would receive, and BWRR’s power of eminent domain.
In response to Councilman Derrick Davis’s question about why the train would not stop in Prince George’s County, Henley said one of the selling points of the maglev is it would provide a one hour trip between D.C. and New York. He added, “if the council wants to have a discussion along that line in terms of (the maglev stopping in) New Carrollton, I’m happy to have that. I’m not saying it has a high probability, but I don’t say no to anything.”
A constant theme throughout the discussion was whether the maglev would benefit the county, since there are no current plans for it to stop in Prince George’s.
“For me, the ultimate question at the end of the day is, why does this benefit Prince George’s County?” Councilman Todd Turner asked. “I understand it could benefit the private entity, it could benefit the region, it could benefit the Northeast Corridor, but what is the direct benefits to the residents? Because they’re going to have the burden if this was to move forward.”
Councilman Mel Franklin shared those concerns.
“(There’s) no sort of upside,” he said. “I haven’t seen any benefits to Prince George’s County small minority businesses, any benefits to communities on the path in terms of impact grants, or anything like that. Nothing.”
Brown said the county could benefit through new careers and educational opportunities.
“Looking at this project, I see opportunity,” Brown said. “I see it especially for Prince George’s County, as a county who is determined to increase its tax base, who’s looking for opportunity to increase our educational opportunities, jobs, and not just jobs, but careers.”
Multiple councilmembers also questioned why substantial public funds were being used for the maglev rather than improving existing transportation infrastructure, particularly the Metro system.
“While I know the federal government can print money, the fact is we need them first and foremost to step up in supporting our Metro system, and so that $28 million dollars (that funded the EIS and NEPA process for the maglev) could have been used for something,” Turner said.
Council Vice-Chair Dannielle Glaros said improving existing infrastructure would better benefit the residents of Prince George’s County.
“$10 billion can go a long way, and I think all of us could find some really great ways to serve many more people than an elite maglev line would serve,” she said.
Franklin asked the BWRR representatives to consider forswearing all public funding for the project. He added, “we have serious burdens in terms of Metro and other infrastructure needs we need the federal government investing in, and not something like Maglev. We need the federal government spending money on fixing Metro before they spend a dime on anything else. We need the federal government to invest in our roads, bridges, our other modes of transportation before they spend a cent on anything like maglev.”
The councilmembers also discussed what impact the maglev would have, even in the underground sections.
“Tunneling has just as much impact in a community,” Glaros said. “There is still vibrations associated with it, there are still substations that will have to be built above ground associated with the line.”
Councilwomen Mary Lehman and Karen Toles agreed with Glaros, that any sections below ground would still have an effect for the residents living nearby.
“The notion, to echo what councilwoman Glaros said, that because 60 to 65 percent of this proposed line would be underground, that there would be not much in the way of community impact is really, it’s offensive that anybody would try to make that claim,” Lehman said.
However, Councilwoman Deni Taveras said, “I don’t have a problem with it being below ground.”
Another topic of discussion was the BWRR’s right to eminent domain as a franchise, and concern that Prince George’s County was not granted a say in that decision.
Henley said BWRR’s right to use eminent domain to purchase property “becomes an issue that is a lightning rod. It is something we’re not interested in using, it’s something that comes with a franchise. It doesn’t mean we will use it. If we have to buy property, we will buy it the old-fashioned way.”
Henley said the franchise – and the consequent powers of eminent domain – was approved by Baltimore City last year.
Councilmembers expressed concern that Baltimore voted on this matter, but Prince George’s did not.
“It is disturbing from the perspective of making a decision about what happens in Prince George’s County, the land use, and the legislative branch of government doesn’t have a specific direct input, but the city of Baltimore does,” Davis said. “That’s kind of weird for me.”
Toles asked that BWRR also “get a resolution or some type of bill passed through this body as you did with Baltimore City.”
Glaros added that she thinks the power of eminent domain is “inappropriate” for BWRR.
“I want to talk to my delegation about rescinding that authority (of eminent domain),” she said.
Glaros also mentioned that advancing technology, such as self-driving cars, may make this project obsolete by the time it is constructed.
“It reminds me, frankly, of the Concorde airplane,” she said, “That has come and has gone.”