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Supporters Hope to Regain Momentum for Trolley

A proposal to build a new trolley line connecting the Inner Harbor and North Baltimore has stalled.

Supporters Hope to Regain Momentum for Trolley

Five years ago, the prospects that there would be a trolley line from the Inner Harbor to University Parkway by 2012 appeared to be gaining traction.

But since then, momentum for a Charles Street Corridor Trolley has slowed to a near halt.

The most significant recent development is an economic impact study that is supposed to be completed this spring. Kristin Speaker, of the  Charles Street Development Corp., which has backed the trolley proposal, said the study will show possible benefits of the trolley. But even the report's findings may not generate any renewed push for the project.

“We’re aware that (Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake) doesn’t support the project,” Speaker said.

A proposal for a trolley running from the Inner Harbor to University Parkway to help draw tourists to institutions such as the  was introduced several years ago. And in 2007, backers of the trolley began to hold public meetings to discuss possible routes and financing options. Meanwhile, trolley opponents started their own website to push back against the project's expense and the trolley's possible adverse impact on exisitng mass transportation.

A website in support of the trolley line detailed its cost -- $156 million.  Of that amount, $136 million would come from the city and state through various means and $20 million from the federal government. It was also expected that the trolley would cost $4.5 million a year to operate and that would come from the fare box and city funds used to operate Baltimore City Shuttle Service on Charles Street.

However, when the economy tanked in 2008, resulting in major budget constraints on Baltimore and the state, momentum for the project all but evaporated, and the trolley line has been pushed to the backburner. 

Ian Brennan, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said the mayor isn’t against the project, but that its supporters need to show that the project can pay for itself.

“They need to show they can generate independent outside funding,” Brennan said. 

Now that the city is facing another budget deficit — estimated to be —  any new proposal needs to come with its own funding sources.

Even as the prospects for a trolley connecting the Inner Harbor and North Baltimore dim, advocates for the project are trying to create grassroots support.

Mark Counselman, a founder of the independent advocacy group Friends of the Trolley, is confident that the trolley will regain its traction, especially if the group can demonstrate enough local support.

“I think the mayor’s a reasonable person, and we will build momentum and when she sees the community is behind it, she’ll come around,” said Counselman, an Oakenshawe resident.   

He said he understands the bad economy is making things tough for the city and that funding for projects such as the trolley isn't readily available. But he thinks there's a constituency to advocate on behalf of a trolley line as part of Baltimore's transpotation future.

“I think the ball’s in our court to prove the future of cities is great transit networks, and it’s as simple as that,” Counselman said.

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