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Maglev award up for grabs for two cities

McKEESPORT, Pa. -- For magnetic levitation advocates in Pittsburgh and Baltimore-Washington, D.C., the contest for a $950 million federal contract looks like a game of "20 Questions," the McKeesport Daily News reported.

"Is the Bush Administration committed to an idea born in the Clinton years?"

"Is funding going to be available for a maglev pilot project?"

"Are there private and/or local public funds available to match a federal contract?"

"Is Baltimore-Washington competing with Pittsburgh?"

Allegheny County Executive James Roddey said the verdict is out on question No. 1; Gov.-elect Ed Rendell predicted that Federal Railroad Administration will award that pledged $950 million.

Some say question No. 2 may hang on how much the U.S. spends on war with Iraq.

Maglev Inc. Vice President Jay Weinberg said question No. 3 was answered for Pittsburgh when $475 million was included in the 2002-03 Pennsylvania capital budget.

But there are those who think "no" answers No. 4.

"Maglev right now, with the bumps it's encountered ... just doesn't have legs," said Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

Miller, a Democrat, cited a lack of public support, a slump in the economy and the loss of a bid to hold the Olympics in Washington.

That didn't stop an agency that has worked since 1994 to bring maglev to Maryland.

"There has certainly been high-level support," said Suzanne Bond, director of communications for Maryland Transit Administration. "At this point, it's premature to say that this project is not going forward in Maryland."

MTA is pressing the B-W case versus Port Authority and its private sector partner Maglev Inc. MTA is working with consultants, rather than a private sector partner.

However, Bond said, "We know that it's going to be a private-public partnership to operate a system, if Maryland is selected."

The Pittsburgh project would link Pittsburgh International Airport, downtown Pittsburgh, Monroeville and the outskirts of Greensburg.

The MTA project would link downtown Washington; Baltimore-Washington International Airport; and downtown Baltimore.

In the Pittsburgh area, opposition has been raised in Robinson, Hempfield, Penn and North Huntingdon townships.

In Maryland, as Bond put it, "There are some residential communities ... that have registered some concerns about the project."

Among them is Linthicum, which Bond said became "very engaged in the process." Engaged enough that routes along Interstates 95 and 295 near Linthicum were taken off MTA's list of possible routes. MTA now is focused on either a route parallel to Amtrak tracks, or a "no-build" option.

Those concerns extended into the 2002 elections. Democratic state Senate Majority Whip James DeGrange and Republican state Rep. James Rzepkowski stressed opposition to maglev in successful reelection campaigns in Anne Arundel County.

MTA is awaiting the report of a task force made up of business, community and elected officials - including DeGrange, by the way.

It is examining how feasible it is to have what could be a $4.4 billion project.

Bond said it would provide an independent review of the issues. She said it will be submitted next month to Maryland's General Assembly and incoming Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

Ehrlich reportedly has not made up his mind about maglev. But Bond said there has been support from Ehrlich's predecessor, retiring Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening, and the mayors of Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

"The task force role is not to indicate whether the project should go forward in Maryland or not," Bond said.

Bond disputed reports that a draft of the task force report has been circulated.

"What the task force looked at was an outline that hit upon some of the issues that would be in the report," the MTA spokeswoman said. "There won't be a draft report until sometime in mid-January."

Friday, December 27, 2002

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