We're twice as smart as the people of Shelbyville. Just tell us your idea, and we'll vote for it!—Mayor Quimby, "Marge vs. the Monorail"
By JONATHAN N. CRAWFORD, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - The list of ideas for new ways across the Chesapeake Bay sometimes seems as long as one of those weekend traffic jams: A second bridge crossing, a tunnel and even a return of ferry service. Now an Eastern Shore lawmaker thinks he has a solution that should be studied - a monorail.
Delegate Michael D. Smigiel Sr., R-Upper Shore, said the state needs to look at monorail service between Annapolis and Kent Island as a way of clearing the region's clogged roads and offering commuters an alternative to the lengthening traffic jams on Route 50 and at the William Preston Lane Jr., Memorial Bridge.
Under Smigiel's bill, the state would study the feasibility of a monorail track that would cross the Chesapeake Bay on a new span and could be extended to other parts of the region including Salisbury, Ocean City and even Washington D.C.
"What we do know now is that traffic conditions over the Bay Bridge are horrific. . . . Currently, if we do nothing, we're looking at 12 hour back-ups [in the future]," he said before the Environmental Matters Committee.
Smigiel's bill calls for the state to set aside between $250,000 and $750,000 for the study. And the report would be completed by January 2008.
Smigiel said he favored the monorail because it is a clean, efficient and less-expensive than other modes of transport. One version of a monorail Smigiel suggested would be a high speed maglev, for magnetic levitation, which would be suspended over the tracks for a friction-free ride.
The electromagnetic field would propel trains to speeds up to 300 mph under optimal conditions, according to a legislative aide. Smigiel said that the monorail would also be less expensive because the track would occupy a smaller footprint than other types of mass transit.
According to a 2005 analysis, about 65,000 vehicles cross the Bay Bridge on an average weekday. That number is projected to increase to 86,000 by 2025. And in 2005, the average backup on a normal summer weekend was 2 miles to 4 miles on eastbound Route 50. Smigiel said the problem has already reached a "boiling point" for many of his constituents.
Maryland Department of Transportation spokesman Christiaan Blake, testifying before the House committee, said he was opposed to the bill because the study would likely cost between $2 million and $4 million, which is several times more expensive than stated in the fiscal note. Blake says the state does not have the money for Smigiel's proposed study.
Another department spokesperson, Nanette M. Schieke, added that the study doesn't adequately take into account the needs of the local communities that the monorail line would serve.
"We want to work as a unit with local governments and policy makers on any potential projects that could address these issues," she said.
But Smigiel, who said he was frustrated by the state's inability to move forward, said something needs to be done. "If you don't like my idea step up to the plate and propose a better idea," Smigiel said in an interview held after the hearing.