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Maryland neighborhood feels impact of Panama Canal expansion

A CSX Corp. cargo facility planned for Southwest Baltimore is more than a little behind schedule. Originally scheduled for completion in 2015, the best the railroad and state and local lawmakers can hope for is wrapping up some time in 2016. The delay will mean losing a year's worth of increased shipping: The Panama Canal expansion is scheduled for completion in 2015.

The canal expansion is a tremendous opportunity for the railroad. Larger ships will be able to carry more cargo through the canal, and the railroad will be moving more containers between the port and destinations further inland. It seems that the most cost-effective way for the railroad to accommodate the additional traffic is to double-stack containers. Unfortunately, to leave the port's container terminal, trains must run through the Howard Street Tunnel, and the two-container freight cars are too high to make it through the tunnel.

In September 2012, the railroad and state officials signed an "Interim Project Agreement" to construct a double-stacking operation at the Mount Clare Rail yard. Tractor-trailers will move containers to and from the port, making, on average, 150 trips a day.

The 150 trips translate into container trucks passing through Morrell Park 300 times a day. Neighborhood residents were not enthusiastic about the plan.

So much truck traffic, the neighborhood argued, would drive down property values. So many trucks driving past their homes every day would mean more noise, more safety issues and, as a result, a reduced quality of life. Area businesses and a nearby hospital backed up the residents' claims and added a couple of their own as well.

Their pleas made an impact on several members of the City Council, and the neighborhood has taken the fight to the General Assembly. The General Assembly could shut down the project by killing the state's contribution, a $20 million appropriation included in the state's proposed budget.

There are other issues with the proposal. We'll get into those in our next post.

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

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