GREENBELT — The Northeast Maglev, the company working on the high-speed Superconducting Maglev (SCMaglev) rail system, released a statement on Nov. 16 giving their support for the new Amazon headquarters in Virginia and the economic benefits it will bring,.
However, members of the community have expressed skepticism for both investments.
“By all accounts, it’s clear that communities surrounding the recently announced Amazon HQ2 locations will see a myriad of benefits – from jobs to new and updated infrastructure and beyond,” the company said in the statement.
“In order for the Greater Baltimore region to also reap some of these benefits, it’s imperative, now more than ever, that we build fast and efficient transportation options that connect major cities along the corridor.”
Amazon chose Crystal City, Virginia as its second headquarters in November. The company plans to invest $5 billion into the project, create up to 50,000 jobs over 20 years and give tens of thousands of dollars back to the community with the project.
Since the announcement of the headquarters, concerns were raised regarding issues such as increased housing prices, overcrowding and an increase in traffic when the headquarters is built.
“It’s an interesting dilemma with regards to the HQ2 for Amazon. It’s going to be an economic boom in a sense that it will bring business and workers and create job opportunities but then you have the travel that is associated with it,” said Former Bowie City Councilman Dennis Brady. “We don’t see how that ties into or has any connection with Maglev.”
According to a series of studies done by the Stephen S. Fuller Institute for Research on The Washington Region’s Economic Future, the increased housing demand would be dispersed and gradual, but the additional demand would likely increase both home sales prices and rental rates marginally above the rise that is expected to occur without those households.
Those 50,000 new workers would be dispersed throughout the Washington, D.C. region, including Prince George’s County. While Arlington, Washington, D.C., Fairfax County and Montgomery County would see the bulk of the impact, Prince George’s County would see two to seven percent of the Amazon workers moving in, which would be up to 4,000 people in search of homes.
According to the study, most of the increases in Prince George’s County and other affected areas are not far outside of the expected gains in the jurisdictions without the headquarters.
“We’re in a situation where we have a housing affordability crisis on our hands in the region as a whole,” said Michael Spotts, president of Neighborhood Fundamentals, LLC, a group that provides research and technical assistance to public, private and nonprofit institutions on issues related to housing affordability, community and economic development. “What Amazon is likely to bring is not anything new per se, but it is going to make existing trends more challenging to address.”
The Stephen S. Fuller Institute also said the Washington region as a whole would be affected economically by continuing the trend of further diversifying the economy away from the federal government, bolstering job growth for the region in line with historical norms and improving the Washington region’s economic brand, potentially improving the region’s ability to attract and retain talent.
“We shouldn’t dismiss the possibility that there could be some positive spillover impact on job growth, on infrastructure that is built. It could have a positive cycle as it pertains to creating more options for transit-oriented development, walkability, etc.,” Spotts said.
“I think we do have the tools, for the most part, that is necessary, we have the knowledge that is necessary to address many of the housing cost challenges that is housing affordability challenges that may arise because of Amazon. The question is will we have the will to use them and marshall the resources that are necessary to do that.”
According to Northeast Maglev, with the introduction of the Amazon headquarters, the train will be a supplement to the headquarters making both more of an asset to the region.
“We are excited to welcome Amazon to the region. The Northeast Corridor is the country’s busiest rail network, and Amtrak, MARC and freight rail all compete for usage – relying on infrastructure that is over 100 years old and simply cannot be upgraded to leading-edge high-speed rail standards,” said Northeast Maglev Chairman and CEO Wayne Rogers.
“With SCMaglev, commuters traveling along the corridor, particularly to Amazon headquarters, could have their travel time cut significantly – and in an appropriately 21st century way.”
However, residents, public officials and groups working directly with the community continue to remain skeptical despite the company’s reassurances of immense benefits.
“Like any other infrastructure, it’ll run right through their neighborhoods, and there will be no benefit,” Brady said. “We see that as being intended for elite ridership and it’s not going to address the problems of traffic congestion in the region. Although they say that it will, we just don’t see how it will work that way.”
Brady, who spent three years working for county government and two years for the Bowie city council, was asked last year to advise Citizens Against SCMaglev. The group, advocating against the train, is concerned with the safety of the project, mainly because of the poor outreach by the proponents.
According to Brady, during the initial scoping phase of the process where the company did an outreach to the public to get comments and suggestions on what to evaluate during the environmental impact study, there was not much community involvement from the project’s stakeholders.
That brought about the formation of Citizens Against SCMaglev, who raised awareness of the impact of the project immensely getting 800 people who had similar concerns at the scoping meetings and even more who were deeply against the train.
The current projection for the train runs directly through Greenbelt, Laurel, and Hyattsville raising worries about the homes and the environment that could be impacted. Community members along the route have been active in their opposition as well as elected officials.
Greenbelt Mayor Emmett Jordan said he and the citizens of Greenbelt are very concerned about what it could mean for the town if the project goes forward.
Part of the project would run directly beneath the city and come up just outside of the forest preserve, and there are also plans for a 200-acre maintenance yard just behind Greenbelt in the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center.
The city of Laurel has similar worries about the Maglev. Regardless of the economic benefits Northeast Maglev sees in conjunction with Amazon, Mayor Craig A. Moe said Laurel would not receive those benefits.
“There’s not a lot of benefit for the residents within the area here,” Moe said. “We just felt that funds could be better used towards enhancing the many different things we have in place. We have rail that goes through here, we have regional bus, all of those different things that need help now and we’re adding another to that.”