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Maryland neighborhood feels impact of Panama Canal expansion p2

We are talking about the plan to open a CSX Corp. facility in the Morrell Park neighborhood of Baltimore. The facility, slated for the Mount Clare rail yard, is necessary for CSX to increase the number of containers it moves to and from the Port of Baltimore -- and the number of containers moved every day should increase significantly when the Panama Canal expansion is completed in 2015.

The proposal would solve the railroad's dilemma with the Howard Street Tunnel. The tunnel cannot accommodate rail cars "double-stacked" with containers. The railroad proposes moving containers by truck between the port and the rail yard, thus avoiding the tunnel. Coming to and leaving from the rail yard, trains can be double-stacked. For the neighborhood near the rail yard, though, the switch means 300 additional tractor-trailer trips past their houses ever day.

Among the neighborhood's complaints was the lack of communication from city and state officials about the plan. According to the Baltimore Sun, the different agencies involved had never quite agreed on their roles in public outreach for the project. The railroad, in fact, managed -- or mismanaged -- a meeting with residents that ended in a shouting match.

It made no sense to residents, for one thing, that CSX would be their main point of contact. While CSX may have been willing to listen, the city and the state should have taken the lead. The city and the state, after all, are accountable to the residents, while CSX is primarily accountable to its shareholders.

It isn't just public relations, though, that has the neighborhood questioning officials' actions. The state's original "Interim Project Agreement" with CSX called for environmental impact studies. That was in September 2012. Opponents point out that no studies have been undertaken.

As we said in our last post, the project is already more than a year behind. If local and state officials and the railroad do not respond to the neighborhood's concerns, they could face protracted litigation.

It took 10 years to complete the canal. If everything goes as planned, the expansion will take about eight years to finish. The Mount Clare rail yard project could take a lot longer.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, "Proposed CSX cargo facility causing friction," Kevin Rector, March 20, 2014

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