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As Long as We Remember...

July 15, 2002

A Trolley for Frederick County, Again

Ronald W. Wolf

Once Frederick County had an inter-urban trolley called the H&F. The terminus in Frederick is currently the Frederick News-Post offices at Patrick and Carroll Streets. To go to Thurmont, you rode past Hood College and Fort Detrick and through what today is Whittier. Then the line turned north. The old right of way is easily visible where it intersects Christopher's Crossing. If the H&F existed today, it would be called light rail. Maybe it's time to bring the trolley back.

Light rail is one of the ideas being kicked around by the I-270/U.S. 15 Multi-Modal Corridor Study, which is sponsored by the State Highway Administration and the Maryland Transportation Authority. The study discusses many possible improvements to the I-270 corridor from Shady Grove to Biggs Ford Road at Route 15.

The concept for light rail doesn't have it leaving Montgomery County, however. It's proposed to run from the Shady Grove Metro station to north of Clarksburg. If light rail becomes part of the plan, it should be considered for Frederick County as well.

A new technology corridor is also envisioned for the stretch of Route 355 from Clarksburg to Route 75. Part of that is in Frederick County, and it's on the Frederick County Master Plan; however, it's likely, when such a technology corridor exists, many jobs there would be filled by Frederick County residents. So light rail to Frederick makes sense.

Even though the name is light rail, it's a flexible mode of transportation. Light rail normally has a top speed of about 60 miles per hour. Light rail trains are designed to operate in mixed street traffic in urban areas or have dedicated rights of way in rural areas. The distance between light rail stations could be every couple of blocks or 5 miles. And since a light rail stop does not require the construction of station platforms, new stops can be almost anywhere. Light rail has other advantages. Since it would be electric receiving power from overhead wires, it would be clean. Growing communities such as Urbana would be perfect for light rail, and the technology corridor would be only minutes away. High-quality business and housing tend to develop where light rail has been established.

The Multi-Modal Corridor Study suggests many other possibilities. I-270 and Route 15 could get additional lanes and a number of new interchanges, including interchanges where there aren't roads today. Dedicated bus lanes are a possibility. But additional highway lanes, while welcomed by many who have to go down the road, will still have the problems associated with motor vehicles: exhaust emissions, traffic backups, lost time, and the general frustration that comes with commuting by car.

Which is why light rail is a good idea for Frederick. The Multi-Modal Corridor Study shows areas preserved for a right of way from the end of the proposed area for light rail to where Francis Scott Key Mall is today. Whether this right of way as currently marked might be suitable for light rail - light rail can't handle the same grades as cars - isn't clear from the study.

Opposition to transportation improvements for Frederick County is likely to be come from activists for and against transportation improvements in Montgomery County. Some activists will advocate that most funds be spent in Montgomery County. Other groups will insist transportation improvements will harm the environment. If light rail doesn't run in Montgomery County, it won't be considered for Frederick County. And people who just don't want to spend tax dollars on anything have opposed light rail in other states and likely would do so here.

It isn't too early to think big. Light rail as proposed could eventually extend the technology corridor into Frederick County all the way to I-70. And who knows. Maybe light rail can eventually extend through Frederick, past Ceresville and Walkersville, to Thurmont. Then we will have gone full circle, and the H&F will be back.

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